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NIH and its health disparities institute call for more partnerships, policies and community action

January / February 2013 | Volume 12, Issue 1

Improved access to health care is essential to break the cycle of poverty that individuals face in many societies around the globe. Steps to facilitate this include more scientific research, partnerships and community involvement, according to speakers at a recent NIH summit on the Science of Eliminating Health Disparities.

Dr John Ruffin speaks at podium
Photo by Ernie Branson/NIH

Dr. John Ruffin, director of
NIMHD, urges scientists to
play larger role in
broadening access to
global health care.

Led by the NIH's National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities (NIMHD), the summit focused on how to accelerate the narrowing of health disparities. "While we're making progress, we still have unfinished business," said NIMHD Director Dr. John Ruffin.

Environmental injustice, residential segregation, incarceration and reduced educational opportunities continue to limit progress. "For us to break down the multiple barriers and achieve health equity, we have to get better at collaborating, partnering, connecting the dots and taking advantage of one of our greatest strengths, the diversity of this nation," Ruffin said.

The NIH has a powerful role to play in reducing health disparities, said NIH Director Dr. Francis S. Collins. "We've enjoyed many successes and our cause is noble, but not all have benefited equally from the successes of medical research. Disparities persist in health and also in the diversity of our own workforce."

Among the initiatives the NIH is taking to combat these imbalances is a plan to offer undergraduates with diverse backgrounds and an interest in science more exposure to cutting-edge research during their undergraduate years, greater access to loan repayment programs and more mentoring "to encourage them to continue that dream of becoming major participants in our future," Collins said.

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