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MLK Day Event Hails Health Disparity Successes
By Carla Garnett
Photos by Ernie Branson
On the Front Page...
This year, to evoke Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s vision of equality, NIH celebrated several of its success stories. Five "NIH Partners in Health Disparities" #151; programs to reduce health problems in specific populations were recognized as tangible proof that NIH is advancing in its mission to improve health for all and inspired the commemoration's 2005 theme, "The Dream of a Healthy Nation Becoming a Reality."
King would have marked his 76th birthday this year, noted NIH director Dr. Elias Zerhouni. "Very few people in the history of mankind have had the impact of Martin Luther King," he said, "who was not just an American hero, but also a hero of humanity."
King was a visionary who saw the future before everyone, Zerhouni continued. "He would see our progress, but he would also see that we are not yet at the Promised Land. We have a long way to go. The diversity of those who serve has to be a mirror image of those we serve. Not trying is worse than trying and failing. We have to continue the march. "
Honored at the Jan. 11 event as footsoldiers in the health disparities battle were grantees as well as current and former NIH'ers leading the charge on several fronts from efforts to reduce cancer incidence in African Americans, Asians and Latinos to raising awareness of heart disease in women to establishing an inner-city rheumatic disease clinic to preventing diabetes in Native Americans.
"Martin Luther King envisioned equal opportunity and full access to good health for all," said Dr. Mark Clanton, NCI deputy director for cancer care delivery systems, before introducing the awardees. "Scientific knowledge achieves its highest value and best purpose when that knowledge is used to advance the human condition...Dr. King's dream was at its core about selflessness. We all are trustees of the human condition. [Our] work transcends goals of individual achievement. Life's most persistent and urgent question is 'What are you doing for others?'"
The six who were lauded for work on behalf of others include NIH grantee Dr. Claudia Baquet, formerly of NCI and now principal investigator of the Maryland Special Populations Network (MSPN); NIAMS science writer Kelli Carrington, outreach coordinator of the Health Partnership Program (HPP); Dr. Jane DeMouy, former NIDDK deputy communications director who served as liaison for the Diabetes Prevention Program (DPP), and Mary Hoskin, program coordinator for DPP and its Outcomes Study; NCI grantee Dr. Grace Ma, principal investigator of the Asian Tobacco Education and Cancer Awareness Research (ATECAR) Initiative; and Dr. Ann Taubenheim, coordinator of NHLBI's Women's Heart Health Education Initiative.
Each briefly described her program's highlights. Baquet discussed MSPN's success in reaching Maryland's Eastern Shore and Southern Maryland populations with cancer prevention messages, citing the state's disproportionate rates of colorectal and prostate cancer incidence and mortality.
Carrington noted that one of the most beneficial results of NIAMS's health partnership may be the trust in the medical research enterprise that HPP has been able to develop in its urban setting, a commodity that is hard to measure, but invaluable for future health care success. More than 1,000 patients have been recruited all via word of mouth to HPP's clinic located in the Cardozo neighborhood of Washington, D.C.
DeMouy and Hoskin talked about how DPP used testimonial videos and brochures developed with assistance from the community's own citizens to help convince Navajo, Pima and Zuni tribes that diabetes was not inevitable for them, and could be prevented with diet and exercise.
Similarly, Taubenheim reflected that NHLBI's The Heart Truth for Women campaign particularly the Red Dress promotion was changing mindsets and gaining popularity, stressing that heart disease is a top health concern of women as well as men.
"We are beginning to see Martin Luther King's dream become reality," said Ma, whose ATECAR initiative in Pennsylvania, New Jersey and New York has reached more than 81,000 Asian Americans with tobacco-use cessation and other cancer awareness activities. "However, there are still challenges."
Earlier in the program, assistant director of the NIH Office of Intramural Research Dr. Arlyn Garcia-Perez recalled that she had been just 10 years old when King was assassinated in 1968. Before then, she had not known of King or his civil rights work. However, with a child's understanding, she grasped the sad effect his death had on the adults around her. Addressing her curiosity, her parents introduced a new word to her young vocabulary segregation. For someone "growing up in Puerto Rico's substantially skin colorblind society," she said learning that such injustices were occurring "in our mainland of the free and home of the brave was a life-changing experience" that led her to adopt King's struggle as her own.
Garcia-Perez, chair of the working group that designed the Academy in 1999, pointed with pride to Lopez-Chacon as another indication that NIH efforts to close gaps are succeeding. He is "living hope that the dream to reduce health disparities will be passed on to future generations until it is fulfilled," she concluded. "And as we know, keeping hope alive is an integral part of Dr. King's dream."
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