Director’s Remarks

Winter 2023

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

Dr. Leandris Liburd
Dr. Leandris Liburd, PhD, MPH, MA

Director of CDC’s Office of Minority Health and Health Equity

In reflecting on all that has happened in 2022, I was reminded of my first time watching the Ironman Triathlon. It was a lazy Saturday, and the TV was on bringing background noise to a quiet house. I found myself getting intrigued with the Ironman Triathlon – a race that included a 2.4-mile swim in the Pacific Ocean (the race was in Hawaii that year), a 112-mile bicycle ride followed by a 26.22-mile marathon. I watched as the athletes raced to the water and swam the 2.4 miles to a road where bicycles were waiting. Dashing out of the water, they ran up a short hill, and jumped on the bikes to begin the 112-mile trek to the starting line for the marathon. I could hardly believe the levels of endurance they were willing to subject their bodies to for the bragging rights that come with this experience. Even more fascinating, the participants were all ages (18 years and over), male and female. The race went on all day and into the evening.  Mark Allen won that year – crossing the finish line with a grace that defied all of what his body had endured.  As more and more participants crossed the finish line, some had to be carried by others as their bodies were depleted. I watched as a man in his 60’s was carried by two people – one on each side – over the finish line. Others were picked up by a jeep at different points along the course and driven to the finish line.

What’s the lesson here?  Pursuing health equity is much like a triathlon. Everyone who registered for the Ironman Triathlon believed training for this race and completing it was a worthy goal. I’m sure they committed many months to preparing and making major adjustments to their lifestyle to do all that was required to build the strength and stamina to swim, ride a bike, and run the distances of the Ironman triathlon. Injuries and other illnesses were likely disruptions during the months of training. However, they showed up, and gave all they had to this triathlon – some were successful like Mark Allen and others didn’t quite achieve all they had planned.

This year challenged and strengthened our work in so many ways. The Office of Health Equity (OHE) was a key partner and instrumental to the success of lots of CDC equity initiatives in 2022. We supported completion of CDC’s first comprehensive and progressive enterprise-wide diversity, equity, inclusion, accessibility and belonging strategic plan, including the articulation and implementation of a governance structure that was characterized by unprecedented levels of employee engagement. We continued to support the agency’s COVID-19 response, worked on the mpox response, and the Ebola outbreak in Uganda – ensuring an intentional and early focus on health equity and community engagement. Along with CDC’s Office of Science and the Office of the CDC director, we celebrated with the national centers, institute, and offices milestones achieved toward CDC’s CORE health equity goals in 2022. We also shared CORE with an enthusiastic international audience through our participation in the international conference on health, race, and racism sponsored by our UK partners – the NHS Race and Health Observatory. We launched the agency’s inaugural Anti-racism and Health Sprint Team to systematically examine and address policies and practices that may be (unintentionally) perpetuating health disparities and inequities. OHE awarded seven (7) grantees this year under the new 5-year cooperative agreement for the John R. Lewis CDC Undergraduate Public Health Scholars Program. In addition to the accomplishing our priorities, we provided critical health equity input to the agency’s Moving Forward strategic reorganization.  CDC Moving Forward will refine and modernize CDC’s structures, systems, and processes for greater efficiency and impact as we develop and deploy our science and programs.  I urge you to visit the CDC Moving Forward website to get a fuller understanding of where the agency is headed.

In this issue of Health Equity Matters, we highlight important reports, events, and special topics. Learn about groundbreaking work to improve mental health that is being supported by federal agencies. Eliminating disparities in vaccination coverage for a variety of infections is still a CDC priority. Find health literacy resources in this issue of Health Equity Matters. Knowledge is still power, so please share the newsletter with your professional networks.

Progress in achieving health equity is only possible through the sustained efforts of world class public health professionals. Join me in congratulating Dr. Tiffany Gary-Webb for being recognized as a Health Equity Champion! Dr. Gary-Webb is a distinguished scientist and respected practitioner among community members. She has a lasting legacy in her work at the federal level, in the academy, and in urban communities. We applaud Dr. Gary-Webb for the difference she is making to reduce health disparities!

In closing, be assured, this is an incomplete snapshot of the race we’ve been in this year, but a clear demonstration of our commitment to realizing a nation where all people have the opportunity to attain their best health possible.  As we come to the end of 2022, I hope to get some rest and be able to recharge over the holiday. This year has been a health equity triathlon and there is more to do! Thank you to our subscribers, colleagues, and partners for all you do to keep this race active and impactful.