Introduction and Welcome

Winter 2020

A quarterly e-newsletter in which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) Office of Minority Health and Health Equity (OMHHE) shares news, perspectives and progress in the science and practice of health equity.

Leandris Liburd, PhD, MPH, MA
Leandris Liburd

In a recent conversation with a colleague, we agreed that the word for 2020 was “unprecedented.” It goes without saying that COVID-19 has dominated our hearts, minds and bodies for the lion’s share of this year. I won’t rehearse the devastation of this pandemic or how it has exposed decades, if not centuries of health and social inequities, but I will remember how our nation rallied to confront this infectious disease.

While words don’t exist to fully express our gratitude, I want to acknowledge and thank every member of the health care workforce who showed up every day to care for our loved ones, and in too many instances stood in our stead holding their hand as they lost their lives to COVID-19. We honor you. We also salute the many caregivers who provide care to our elderly in long-term care facilities. We have relied on you to be extensions of our families and your sacrifice has not gone unnoticed or unappreciated. As services previously taken for granted have been restricted or closed, we extend thanks to the host of essential workers whose occupations allowed us to maintain some semblance of “normal,” as you continued to meet the obligations of that sector. To our colleagues in state, tribal, local, and territorial departments of public health, you demonstrated again the fortitude of the public health infrastructure despite funding, staffing, and other limitations. Thank you for your diligence in protecting the health and safety of every state, tribal nation, and locale across the U.S.

Last, but not least, I want to applaud my colleagues at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention who worked 24/7 in the COVID-19 Incident Management Structure, or what we refer to as “The Response.” Having spent 4 ½ months in “The Response,” I can attest to the dedication, expertise and resilience of the world’s best public health workforce. Thousands of public health professionals stepped up to the challenge, and the camaraderie was palpable. What a privilege to be counted among you!

In this edition of Health Equity Matters, we highlight programs being implemented across the nation to reduce COVID-19 disparities in some racial and ethnic minority communities. Fostering meaningful engagement with community institutions and diverse leaders is one of the guiding principles of the CDC COVID-19 Health Equity Strategy and these programs are glowing examples. The Health Equity Champions for this edition are a “power couple” – Dr. Marshall Kreuter and Martha Katz, who have long and distinguished records in public health, health promotion, and health equity. The work pioneered by Dr. Kreuter continues to inform community health planning, and he was instrumental in the original design of CDC’s REACH program. Together, they sponsor an annual Health Equity lecture at Georgia State University. What a legacy! We also feature CDC’s health equity and chronic disease prevention resources. As chronic diseases like diabetes and heart disease increase risks for severe illness from COVID-19, we must bolster our efforts to prevent and control these conditions.

As we look to the new year, let’s imagine how we can use the experience of COVID-19 to shift and eliminate historical patterns of health disparities. We possess the genius to achieve a nation where everyone has the opportunity to attain their best health possible. COVID-19 has demonstrated why we need a diverse and inclusive public health and health care workforce as we observed the disproportionate impact of this disease in communities of color. Increasing language access; understanding and responding to historical trauma and other barriers to healthcare; as well as strengthening our data collection systems are all opportunities to “move the needle toward health equity” in the months ahead. Seeking and securing partnerships with employers, enduring community institutions (e.g., faith-based organizations, the YMCA and YWCA, Boys & Girls Clubs, to name a few), national and state health organizations, philanthropy, and the technology sector, among others, will be needed to accelerate our efforts to reduce largely preventable health disparities, and advance health equity. Innovative research that unpacks root causes of health disparities and inequities, and that informs a way forward is as essential in 2021 as it has been for decades. Public health scholars around the nation have been at the forefront of research examining social determinants of health, health care disparities and the systems that perpetuate them, and identifying strategies that work to facilitate improvements in population health – particularly among those who have been put at increased risk for a variety of poor health outcomes. We have another opportunity to re-evaluate policies that either support or restrict access to health care, paid sick leave, housing security, and other basic needs. In record time, COVID-19 vaccines have been approved and are being distributed. There is much to do and much more to be accomplished in 2021.

On behalf of the Office of Minority Health and Health Equity, I wish you a happy and healthy holiday season!

Leandris Liburd, PhD, MPH, MA
Director of the Office of Minority Health and Health Equity

Page last reviewed: December 29, 2020