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NIH Record

More Hispanic Research Participation Urged

By Dilsey Davis

Photos: Bill Branson

Finding ways to increase Hispanic participation in research emerged as a theme at the recent Hispanic Heritage Symposium held in Masur Auditorium to kick off National Hispanic Heritage Month (Sept. 15-Oct. 15). Christina Bruce, director of Diversity and Employment Programs at NCI and chairperson of the observance, began by stating that there is an "imperative need that Latinos and Hispanics in the United States become aware of and participate in the medical research programs which seek them out, not only for their own immediate well-being but also for the ones who cannot easily speak for themselves."

Racial and ethnic gaps in health are well-recognized. Kevin Thurm, deputy secretary of DHHS, reported that 30 percent of Latino children are not covered by insurance; in addition, Latino women are more likely to die from cervical cancer than whites. He said this is not a Latino problem or an African American problem: "It is an American problem. We cannot treat racial disparities as an unavoidable fact of life -- a problem with elusive solutions. Eliminating the health disparities among different racial and ethnic groups will lead to better health for all Americans."

On hand for "Abriendo Puertas -- Opening Doors: Biomedical Research and Hispanic Health Issues" were (from l) DHHS Deputy Secretary Kevin Thurm, NIH deputy director Dr. Ruth Kirschstein, NCI director Dr. Richard Klausner, and NIA director Dr. Richard Hodes.

Currently there are more than 29.7 million Hispanics in the United States, or about 11 percent of the population. Larry Salas, president of the NIH Hispanic Employee Organization, stated that Hispanics are underrepresented in the federal work force. Only 2.3 percent of the employees at NIH are Hispanic. NIH is addressing this problem with a program called "Hispanic Agenda for Action: Improving Services to Hispanic Americans." Its mission is to "address a broad scope of issues ranging from service delivery, data collection, customer service capability, Hispanic Educational Excellence programs, and the underrepresentation of Hispanic employees in the HHS work force."

Dr. Richard Klausner, NCI director, focused on understanding the burden of cancer. He reported that overall rates of cancer in the Hispanic community are lower than in the white community. Studies show that Hispanics have lung cancer one-third less frequently than whites, breast cancer rates are 40 percent lower, and colorectal cancer rates are 25 percent lower than in whites.

Dr. Elmer Huerta, who appears on radio and TV with health information for the Hispanic community in D.C., is greeted warmly by his fans.

However, not all cancers are lower in the Hispanic community than in the non-Hispanic community. Prostate cancer is rising in the Hispanic community. Cancer of the liver, stomach and gall bladder are almost twice as high in the Hispanic population as in the white population. Researchers are studying whether or not exposures to cancer-causing agents are at the root of the problem. Klausner declared that there are extraordinary opportunities to learn why cancer rates in the Hispanic population differ from those among whites.

NIA director Dr. Richard Hodes spoke next about new directions in research on aging. He said that in 1990, there were over 1 million Hispanics over age 65 and by the year 2050, this number will increase eleven-fold. He echoed the call to involve this growing Hispanic community in research.

Quite a few radio and television fans turned out to see and hear Dr. Elmer Huerta, medical director of the Cancer Risk Assessment and Screening Center. He spoke about why he presents health information via television and radio. He explained that 87.9 percent of Latinos in the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area listen to the radio daily. Physicians are also highly respected sources of health information in the community. Huerta has produced more than 1,000 radio shows since 1989.

Other symposium topics included smoking prevention in youth, screening patterns in the Hispanic community, Alzheimer's disease, and the need for increasing the number of minority students in scientific careers.

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