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New Exhibition at the CDC Museum Focuses on Health Disparities and Health Equity

Health Is a Human Right: Race and Place in America

Photo: Health is a Human Right - Group of childrenA compelling new exhibition in the David J. Sencer CDC Museum, located at CDC Headquarters in Atlanta, Georgia, the Health Is a Human Right exhibit looks back through history at how minority groups have experienced health problems differently. The exhibit helps us understand why these differences persist and chronicles efforts to reduce and eliminate health disparities.

"Health Is a Human Right" interprets minority health issues in the 20th and 21st centuries by examining what are known as the social determinants of health, drawing upon historical photographs, documents, data charts, books, public health promotional materials, multimedia, and artifacts. According to CDC Museum Curator Louise E. Shaw, over 100 contributors and lenders are participating in Health Is a Human Right, not including the many divisions, programs, and individuals within CDC who have provided resources and materials.

The World Health Organization defines social determinants of health as the circumstances in which people are born, grow up, live, work and age, and access to health care. These circumstances are in turn shaped by a wider set of forces: economics, social policies, and political will.

Photo: We Shall SurviveImages on display include the National Negro Health Week (NNHW) poster published in 1929 by the U.S. Public Health Service and Tuskegee Institute. NNHW was one of the longest sustained health promotion and disease prevention campaigns for black Americans in public health history. Other featured image includes a picture of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. with Rev. Carson Black, taken during the March on Washington 50 years ago.

Photo: El Bracero Fumigation"We have been able to draw upon the work of some other important photographers. Shot by Leonard Nadel in 1956, the image of Mexican men being sprayed with DDT by Department of Agriculture personnel as they entered the U.S. to participate in the El Bracero guest worker program certainly speaks for itself. Jenny LaBalme took the iconic image of protestors lying down on the road in Warren County, North Carolina in 1982. Aaron Huey, a National Geographic photographer, contributed several images from a series he published in 2010 of the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota," Shaw said.

Because the exhibition is so photography- based, Shaw looked for interesting objects and artifacts to round out the exhibition. "We negotiated with a number of small non-profit organizations whose work had never been showcased in an exhibition such as this one before," said Shaw. "One example is the Community Water Center in the San Joaquin Valley, California, which has lent us a corroded sanitation pipe and bottles of unsafe drinking water," said Shaw.

Be Certain: Get Tested for Hepatitis BThe Tuskegee University Archives lent a 1950s child's crutch and brace used at the Infantile Paralysis Center in the 1950s. And the Louisiana Bucket Brigade in New Orleans sent us a low-cost do-it-yourself air sampler currently used by the organization."

An innovative design element is a faux bus shelter fabricated by the CDC Wood Shop. One side of the shelter features a 1997 campaign to promote awareness about diesel buses and air quality in Upper Manhattan by WE ACT for Environmental Justice. The other side shows a Chinese version of the "Be Certain: Get Tested for Hepatitis B," campaign produced by the Center for the Study of Asian American Health at New York University.

The exhibition is sponsored by CDC's Office of Minority Health and Health Equity (OMHHE) as part of its 25th anniversary celebration, along with CDC's Office of the Associate Director for Communication; it has additional support from the California Endowment.

Making It Better: Healthy meals start before the cook ever steps in the kitchen."The past 25 years have taught us a great deal about the root causes of health disparities, the power of community engagement in overcoming health disparities, and the role the federal government can play in addressing health disparities through population-based public health initiatives," said CDC's Associate Director for Minority Health and Health Equity Leandris C. Liburd, PhD, MPH. "Eliminating health disparities is a societal issue. We are all affected when segments of our community suffer disproportionately from preventable diseases and premature mortality. We believe we can achieve health equity. Hopefully, the exhibit will "shine a light on the unacceptable" and raise community awareness that health disparities are not intractable – they can be overcome!"

Diabetes Favors MinoritiesHealth equity has been defined in many ways, but always refers to the opportunity for all to be healthy and make healthy choices. Achieving health equity requires valuing everyone equally, and continually striving to eliminate avoidable inequalities, injustices, and health disparities.

The exhibition is intended to show the faces behind the data, tell the broader story of the social conditions that contribute to health disparities, demonstrate the passion of communities in mobilizing for health and well-being, and remind us that there are more opportunities to make a difference in communities at risk for health disparities.

About the Museum

David J. Sencer CDC Museum - History. Legacy. Innovation.The David J. Sencer CDC Museum is an educational facility designed to teach about the history and scope of CDC, public health, and the prevention of disease.

On selected Wednesdays, you can join the curator for an intriguing conversation and tour. Space is limited to 20 people per tour. Reservations are required. To register, send an e-mail to
Visitors need a government-issued photo ID or passport. Vehicle inspection is required. The museum is open Monday through Friday, 9:00 a.m.–5:00 p.m., with extended hours to 7:00 p.m. on Thursday. The museum is closed on federal holidays. For more information, visit the museum's website.

More Information


  1. [Health Is a Human Right] Emerson Elementary School class picture, ca. 1947 Courtesy of Shades of San Francisco, San Francisco Public Library
  2. [“We Shall Survive, Without a Doubt”] poster from The Black Panther, August 21, 1971, highlighting innovative early childhood education and free breakfast programs (© Emory Douglas)
  3. [El Bracero Fumigation] El Bracero guest workers being sprayed with DDT by the Department of Agriculture, El Paso, Texas, 1956 (Leonard Nadel Collection, National Museum of American History; photograph by Leonard Nadel)
  4. [Be Certain: Get Tested for HepB] Chinese language version of "Be Certain: Get Tested for Hepatitis B" bus shelter targeting New York City's Asian community, 2012. (NYU Center for the Study of Asian American Health and Partnership)
  5. [Making It Right] Native Americans living in the Pacific Northwest preparing salmon traditionally in an effort to preserve tribal customs and diet (NW Indian Fisheries Commission, Olympia, WA)
  6. [Diabetes Favors Minorities] American Diabetes Association poster highlighting the higher incidence of diabetes among racial minorities, 1991 (U.S. National Library of Medicine, History of Medicine Division, Bethesda, MD)
  • Page last reviewed: December 2, 2013
  • Page last updated: December 2, 2013
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