The National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities held its inaugural scientific operational planning session recently to pave the way for a research agenda to help define the science of health disparities.
“The meeting enabled us to identify important initiatives that can be implemented,” said Dr. Yvonne Maddox, NIMHD acting director. “The process will help us achieve our long-term scientific goals and create a strategic agenda that will allow us to develop a clear definition of health disparities research, how it is conducted and how best to support it.”
NIH director Dr. Francis Collins and NIMHD acting director Dr. Yvonne Maddox at NIMHD’s first scientific operational planning meeting
Photo: Ernie Branson
During the meeting, ongoing program initiatives were reviewed for scientific merit, cost, productivity and impact, including signature research and infrastructure programs, as well as career development, training and small business programs.
Some priority areas that were presented for review include American Indian/Alaska Native health and HIV/AIDS and obesity.
“It was inspiring for all of us to hear the importance of the field of health disparities research, what NIMHD has done to date and our committed roles in this field,” Maddox said.
“We agree on how critical it is to focus the NIMHD research agenda in such a way that we can not only address and reduce health disparities and improve the health of underserved populations, but also that we should do this using innovative, unique, thoughtful and, where possible, cost-effective approaches,” she added. “This means engaging the full complement of NIMHD staff and our available funds...through targeted collaborations across NIH, HHS and with other public and private-sector organizations to provide not only additional funding, but also other ideas to help address our complex mission.”
Staff attending the meeting received a surprise visit from NIH director Dr. Francis Collins, who acknowledged the historical legacy of the institute in its efforts to improve minority health and eliminate health disparities.
“Thank you for giving me the opportunity to tell you, on behalf of all NIH, how very much your work here is appreciated,” Collins said. “Your mission is so critical to our future. Advancing the cause of health disparities is one of my personal priorities. NIH has a major role in identifying interventions and causes and your institute is central to those goals.”
Collins highlighted the institute’s accomplishments from its beginnings in 1990 as an office to designation as an institute in 2010 with passage of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. While securing access to health care is instrumental in efforts to decrease health disparities, problems with quality of health care and outcomes still persist in certain underserved communities; we need to find ways to close these gaps, he explained.
NIMHD helps set priorities for minority health and health disparities at NIH, conducts and supports this research and promotes and supports the training of a diverse biomedical workforce, Collins added. “The institute advances and translates knowledge in ways that inform the public, helping them to make better health choices,” he said.
Collins spoke of a future where medicine will be more focused on the individual, not a one-size-fits-all approach. He said an important part of personalizing medicine comes from understanding the causes of health disparities and determining how to eliminate them. “If we can chip away at health disparities, everyone can experience the better health they deserve,” he said.
“Using the tools of research and our creativity to address our task, we have a moral responsibility to address health disparities,” he concluded. “What a privilege to be engaged in this noble enterprise that has real promise to give every person the opportunity to have better health. Thank you for what you are doing.”