SATCHER: Marks MLK Day With Plea To End Disparities
Calling for an end to racial disparities in health care, Surgeon General David Satcher spoke Monday at Duke University to urge providers "to do a better job of doing what [Martin Luther] King did so well: educating, motivating and mobilizing communities." He said, "We pride ourselves at having the most sophisticated health care system in the world, and it's true, but at best, health care is still uneven."
Satcher pointed specifically to racial disparity in infant mortality rates, noting that African-American infants have a mortality rate 2.5 times greater than white infants, and that American Indian infants have a mortality rate 1.5 times that of white infants. Although he attributes some of the differences to genetic factors, he asserted that "many are the result of cultural differences, less access to health care and the scarcity of physicians of varied racial and ethnic backgrounds."
Satcher told the Duke audience that he "has narrowed the nation's public health goals," to focus on reducing racial disparities in childhood immunizations, AIDS, heart disease, cancer screening, infant mortality and complications stemming from diabetes. Applauding the increasing rate of childhood immunizations, Satcher called for a final effort to close the racial gap. Whereas in 1993, only 55% of children had received immunizations by age two, four years later the figure rose to 78%, "with no racial or ethnic group falling below a 70% immunization level." In addition, Satcher said he "advocates needle-exchange programs to reduce the transmission of diseases such as AIDS, but he has failed to get support from the Clinton administration" (Kauffman, Raleigh News & Observer, 1/20).