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NIH Director's Corner

Over the past 20 years, medical and scientific advances that were made possible through basic and applied research, diagnostics and treatment have paved the way for significant improvement in the health of the American people.

Yet, alongside this overall improvement, there remains an alarmingly disproportionate burden of illness among minority and medically underserved populations. Thus, we still see disparities in the extent of illness and death felt by African Americans, Hispanics, Native Americans, Alaska Natives, Asians and Pacific Islanders.

Among the most striking disparities are shorter life expectancy and higher rates of cardiovascular disease, cancer, infant mortality, birth defects, asthma, diabetes, stroke, sexually transmitted diseases and mental illness.

Clearly, our nation's foremost health challenge is to overcome persistent health disparities and promote health for all Americans.

NIH director
Dr. Elias Zerhouni

Our approach to minority health and health disparities, guided by Dr. John Ruffin, the director of the National Center on Minority Health and Health Disparities, is to support and promote biomedical and behavioral research, research training, research capacity and information distribution by working closely with the NIH institutes and centers.

The NCMHD mission is driven by our shared vision of a time when all Americans have the opportunity for long, healthy and productive lives regardless of race, ethnicity or socioeconomic status.

The recently released NCMHD report entitled, "NIH Strategic Research Plan and Budget to Reduce and Ultimately Eliminate Health Disparities," details the NIH commitment.

This strategic plan focuses on three major goals:

  • Conduct research to advance understanding of the development and progression of diseases and disabilities that contribute to minority health and other health disparities;
  • Develop research infrastructure to increase minority health and health disparity research training, career development and institutional capacity;
  • Pursue public information and community outreach to ensure the public, health care professionals and research communities are informed and educated about the latest advances in minority health and health disparities research.

All the NCMHD initiatives cut across areas that represent many diseases, disabilities and organizational boundaries. More importantly, the initiatives represent a trans-agency commitment to explore and solve many of the health disparities problems our citizens and our nation face.

To further facilitate research in this important area, we need to continue to train researchers from a diversity of backgrounds reflective of the diversity of the population of our country.

I am confident that the medical research community — working with, and informed by, the public, patients, health care providers and policymakers — will develop new knowledge to improve the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of diseases and disabilities that contribute to health disparities among minority and medically underserved populations.

All of us share an obligation to ensure that the new knowledge uncovered in our laboratories and our clinics benefits all our citizens and communities. We at the NIH will continue to promote the development and transfer of research-based information from the biomedical, behavioral and social sciences for use by health professionals, communities and others in working toward the elimination of health disparities.

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