Our eighth winning essay comes from Sara Paracha of the Brown School at Washington University in St. Louis:
The definition of a health disparity as defined by Healthy People 2020 encompasses many subgroups of marginalized communities. While all communities have the commonality of a health difference, the cause for each may vary dependent upon geographical location or individual background. The first step in the process of eradicating health disparities over the next decade is identifying the root causes of the disparity. Causes for the disparity may include but are not limited to cost, access, discrimination, transportation, preexisting conditions, lack of education, stigma or culture. There is plenty of existing research that has been conducted that recognizes that a disparity exists, this research can be synthesized to find the gap and conduct further assessments or research as necessary. The next step is to implement programs and resources to tackle the causes. The resources include building safe neighborhoods and communities, increasing access to nutritious foods in food deserts and increasing mental health resources for youth and adults. Efforts need to decrease violence to develop less stressful environments for families. The education gap must be addressed because every child deserves a quality education regardless of their zip code. Special attention should be given to prenatal health and education on family planning to start the next generations health well. The bottom line in all of this is allocating funds to communities that need it most.
For practitioners, it is important to understand that these issues exist and why. Conversations on race, ethnicity, sexual orientation and gender are crucial and should not be taboo. Social workers, public health professionals, mental health professionals, physicians, politicians, researchers and others in contact with people in regard to any aspect of their health need continuous education on how to appropriately address concerns amongst populations that are different than their own. Some communities may not trust professionals who are implementing interventions in their communities, it is important these interventions are culturally appropriate and introduced as such. Learn about different cultures, their food, customs, religious practices, genetic histories and other factors that contribute to their overall well-being. Understand what the community feels they need most, ideas from the outside looking in are not always right. It is also important to understand where different communities obtain their health information, there may be a lot of misinformation guiding what some may believe are healthy practices. When the providers of services are more aware of the issues, they can then voice concerns to legislation that is related to any of these issues mentioned and be the voice for those who may not have the privilege of having one. The cost of health insurance, reproductive health care rights and funding for after school programs all impact the health disparity. Taking the steps listed above will guide the goal of eradicating health disparities, regardless of identities, and reach health equity overall.