Center Will Focus On Health Disparities

Erika Beras January 2, 2012

The University of Pittsburgh’s Graduate School of Public Health has formed a new center that will replace The Center for Minority Health. That center was formed in 1994 out of concern about the health disparities among minority populations in Southwestern Pennsylvania.

This new center, which has grown out of The Center for Minority Health, opened in mid-December. It will focus less on outreach and more on quantative research, getting funding, and publishing.

The new center is housed in the old center’s old office and employs many of the same people, including Angela Ford, who has led health promotion and disease prevention initiatives relevant to minority health since 1996, including the Take a Health Professional to the Barber Shop day. She will lead the new center, along with Michael Zigmond, a professor of neurology, psychiatry, and behavioral and community health sciences at the University of Pittsburgh.

He says that applying research to understand health disparities in underserved populations will fill a hole in public health that is needed.

Of all the disparities there are, the center will focus on a few.

Zigmond said that the problem is so large, they could only pick a few. One of those disparities is infant mortality in the African-American community. The numbers in the county are “astonishing,” said Zigmond.

Pittsburgh has been one of the worst, if not the worst, in the United States in regard to infant mortality since the federal government began to keep statistics at the beginning of the last century. It is three times higher in Allegheny County than it is for the U.S. population at large, and it is fifty percent higher than any other area of African-American population.

“We don’t understand why African-American babies in Allegheny county die at so much higher a rate than African-American babies across the country,” said Zigmond, citing possibilities such as access to health care, environmental conditions, drug use, and smoking, but adding that these problems are bad in Pittsburgh, but not necessarily any worse than they are in other parts of the country.

The center will also focus on death in young adulthood in the African-American community due to street violence for men and HIV/AIDS for women, and on premature death in middle –age for African-Americans due to cardiovascular and respiratory problems.

The Center for Minority Health has a record of community engagement. “We will continue to do that, and in fact expand our involvement in the community,” Zigmond said.

Part of what they will do is bringing people together from other departments at the university to establish programs that will help people reduce these disparities.

“We can’t be experts in all of these areas. We probably won’t be experts in any of the areas, but what we will do is try to leverage the existing expertise so we can collectively make strides to reduce health disparities in general and in our region of the country in particular,” Zigmond said.