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Satcher Gives Seventh Diggs Lecture

By Alfred Johnson and Sharon Jackson

U.S. surgeon general Dr. David Satcher recently delivered the NIH Black Scientists Association's John W. Diggs Lecture before an overflow crowd in Masur Auditorium.

His topic was Healthy People 2010 — Building the Next Generation of Healthy People; this is a set of national 10-year health objectives that were developed through a collaborative process and designed to measure progress over time. Now in its third decade, the Healthy People agendas are aimed at eliminating health disparities by addressing lifestyle changes, environmental issues and access to health care. Satcher also challenged NIH "to not only produce quality science but (also) to bring it to bear on policy issues of the country."

Surgeon General David Satcher

He described the national strategic plan for the elimination of health disparities, which has six targets: infant mortality, breast and cervical cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, HIV/AIDS, and immunizations. Satcher said that an African American baby born in the United States is two times more likely to die in the first year of life, and an American Indian baby is one and a half to two times more likely to die than a baby born to the majority population. From 20 to 30 percent of African American men and 40 percent of African American women are more likely to die from coronary heart disease than the majority population, and American Indians are three times more likely to suffer from diabetes and its complications such as renal failure than the majority population.

Satcher also touched on: efforts to urge more women to have mammograms; the NIH-supported Jackson Heart Study of cardiovascular disease; and research on the prevalence of diabetes in the American Indian community, including long-term studies in which NIH is engaged.

He also had encouraging news: "There is a decline in mortality from cancer in virtually all groups. However," he continued, "the decline is not the same for all groups."

Satcher also discussed the Leading Health Indicators and 10 major public health issues described by the Institute of Medicine. These include lifestyle issues such as physical activity, overweight and obesity, tobacco use, substance abuse, and responsible sexual behavior. "One-half of the deaths in this country each year are related to lifestyle," he remarked. He noted that we have a vaccine available to prevent pneumococcal pneumonia but large numbers of those who should get it do not. We can make advances in these areas, he assured, but "there is something wrong with our (delivery) truck."

High school student Alisha Williams accepts a scholarship award from Dr. Wayne Bowen, president of the NIH Black Scientists Association.

Also at the event, BSA awarded the Cheryl Torrence-Campbell Memorial Scholarships, two of which are presented each year to graduating seniors from District of Columbia high schools who intend to pursue studies in the sciences. This year's recipients are Alisha Williams of Eastern Senior High School, who plans to attend Howard University, and Victor Davis of Benjamin Banneker Academic High School, who will attend Princeton University. Each was given a plaque and a $1,000 check.

This was the seventh annual John W. Diggs lecture, which honors a former NIH deputy director for extramural research who was noted for his contributions to NIH, the scientific community at large, and for his efforts in advancing underrepresented minorities in the biomedical sciences. The series was established in 1995 as a forum to highlight the accomplishments of black scientists from around the country. The lecture can be viewed at For information on BSA, visit

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