In 1935, a small band of women, all members of the Alpha Kappa
Alpha sorority, initiated the Mississippi Health Project. Their
goal was to bring treatment, supplies and health education messages
to Mississippi Delta residents who rarely saw a health professional.
For 6 years, until the beginning of World War II, they mobilized
health professionals who set up clinics under trees, in churches
and wherever people gathered. Adults were tested for various conditions
and given medical treatment, children were immunized and everyone
was given useful tips for staying healthy. Then Surgeon General
Dr. Thomas Parran referred to the project as "one of the greatest
efforts of volunteer public health" he had ever seen.
In 2006, another generation of AKA women traveled to the Mississippi
Delta to continue a tradition begun 70 years earlier. This time,
they were joined by a team from NIH that included representatives
from five institutes. Dr. Yvonne Maddox, deputy director of the
National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, and Dr.
Patricia Grady, director of the National Institute of Nursing Research,
co-chairs of the NIH Public Trust Initiative, led a team who listened,
learned and talked about health in Mississippi.
During the 2½-day visit that began in Jackson, some members of
the NIH team traveled to Mound Bayou, a 2-hour bus ride north of
Jackson. There, the team joined dozens of health professionals
and volunteers from the AKA sorority in staffing a health fair
at the local clinic. AKA members dedicated a plaque commemorating
the contribution of Dr. Dorothy Boulding Ferebee, the AKA member
who began the Mississippi outreach in Mound Bayou 70 years ago.
Others on the NIH team remained in Jackson to take part in a series
of events at the Jackson Medical Mall. In the late 1990s, Sen.
Thad Cochran (R-MS) and a group of Jackson residents arranged to
convert a failing retail mall into a major medical facility. Today,
the Jackson Medical Mall houses clinics and offices of the University
of Mississippi Medical Center (UMMC) as well as the educational
facilities of Jackson State University and Tougaloo College. The
Jackson Heart Study, which is supported by the National Heart,
Lung, and Blood Institute and the National Center for Minority
Health and Health Disparities, is also located in the mall.
Maddox thanked the residents of Jackson for their support of medical
research. "You are a vital part of the research enterprise," she
said. "From planning the research to disseminating the results,
we can't do this without your participation."
NINR's Grady noted that a large organization such as NIH needs
public trust to fulfill its mission, and events like the ones in
Jackson and Mound Bayou can help build that trust. Linda White,
world-wide head of the 170,000-member sorority, thanked NIH for
its commitment to reducing health disparities. "Our members began
working with the NIH in a campaign to reduce the risks of sudden
infant death syndrome among African-American infants. We are happy
to expand our relationship to make a real impact on reducing health
A highlight of activities at the Jackson Medical Mall was the
National Eye Institute's walk-through exhibit. Area station WLBT-TV
covered the opening of the exhibit live and conducted several interviews
with NIH staff and AKA members from within the eye exhibit.
NIH also invited the community to take part in roundtable discussions.
These included Jackson residents, researchers from UMMC and Jackson
State, Jackson Heart Study participants and stakeholders in promoting
the health and well-being of the people in Mississippi.