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Health Disparities Project Receives $4-Million Grant from Kellogg Foundation

By Rori Francis Blakeney

The awarding of a $4-million grant by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation to the Morehouse College Research Center on Health Disparities (MCRCHD) comes at a time when blacks lead the nation in rates of infant mortality, death from cervical or breast cancers, heart disease and AIDS infection, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

MCRCHD's 11-month-old health disparities pilot project wants to put an end to inadequate care for any patient in the healthcare system. Under the leadership of Diane Rowley, the center's director, Morehouse is engaged in developing a new model for eliminating inequalities in the healthcare system.

“I think one of the problems is we assume healthcare is about access,”
Rowley said. “We need to look at the social determinants of health—racism, socioeconomic status, education, cultural differences—that are not looked at by the medical community. If those root causes are addressed, we can develop healthy communities.”

The project, titled “Health Disparities, Ethics, and Participation: New Tools and New Visions,” is taking a radically different approach to research. Using a four-pronged concept, it seeks to engage a broad range of stakeholders, the most important of which is the community.

Indeed, the community defines what should be studied in the project—a departure from the traditional model where scientists and public health officials determine the problem.

For example, several Savannah, Ga., neighborhoods are concerned about violence, so in these communities the focus will be on reducing crime and encouraging lawmakers and police departments to think differently about how to respond to crime.

Meanwhile, in communities that are near landfills or dumpsites, environmental issues will be studied. Other health-related issues that disproportionately affect minority communities, such as heart disease, diabetes and HIV, will be examined during the long-term four-year project.

The project also hopes to capitalize on the relationship that Historically Black Colleges and Universities have with the community.

“We see HBCUs as a part of the community. We are not separate from the community. We have always been [here] to solve problems,” Rowley said. “The key is that the new approach is using students and faculties from HBCU’s to capitalize on the relationship. We are doing research as partners, not in an hierarchical manner the way most research is done.”

The Atlanta University Center, Savannah State University, Fort Valley State, Paine College and the Atlanta-based Southeast Community Research Center are some of the institutions that are partnering with Morehouse to develop this new model. The Healthcare Georgia Foundation and the CDC provided some funding for the pilot project.

In addition, Rowley is working with the Leadership Center, Dr. Bill Jenkins, professor of science and mathematics, and the Department of Business Administration and Economics to help attract students to careers in health and public policy.

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