Lovell’s Food For Thought: The Failure to Truly Address Health Inequities in America

"If you always do what you've always done, you will always get what you always gotten."

Dr. Lovell Jones | 5/17/2019, 12:39 a.m.
I often use a quote by Mom’s Mabely. It states the following: "If you always do what you've always done, ...
Dr. Lovell A. Jones retired as Professor Emeritus from the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center

Two issues have concerned me for many years: have we made any real significant progress in addressing health inequities, and are we going to continue to go along to get along? These were the questions I asked myself three decades ago as I sat in LAX waiting for my red eye to wing my way back to Houston for a morning meeting. I sat there wondering if our nation truly wanted to eliminate health inequities, or have we created just another industry that relies on health to continue in order to become another employment opportunity? Today, in 2019, I find myself asking the same questions. This is not to say there are not islands of hope. Unfortunately, these islands of today are basically reinventing the wheel with better scientific tools. And what about the diversity in those addressing the science; has that really changed? Unfortunately, today, more than four decades later, I find that we have yet to make any real significant progress.

So do we all know what health disparities/inequities really are?

“They are areas where there is significant disparity in overall rate of disease incidence, prevalence, morbidity, mortality, or survival rates in [one] population as compared to the status of the general population.” Minority Health and Health Disparities Research and Education Act of 2000

Even today, compared to white Americans, the figures for African Americans have not really changed. I have chosen African Americans because the figures continue to remain at crisis level. This does not negate the issues that face other people of color as well as poor whites. I could pull similar data for others of color and even poor white Americans, but why? Hopefully, this should get your attention.

African Americans

• Still account for for nearly half of all new HIV infections

• Are still 2 times more likely to die of cardiovascular disease (heart)

• Are still 8 times more likely to contract tuberculosis

• Still have a significant increase in the death rate from cerebrovascular disease (Strokes)

• Have a 27% increase in the death rate from diabetes

• Are still three times more likely to die from Asthma related diseases

• Still have an over 30% higher incidence rate of lung cancer

• Still accounts for nearly 50% of all AIDS-related deaths!

• Still have a 31/2 year shorter life expectancy

• Still have a higher infant mortality ratio than whites; it has not changed in over 100 years and is getting worse.

• Along with Native American and Alaska Native women, African American women are about three times more likely to die from causes related to pregnancy, compared to White women in the United States.

A decade prior to sitting in LAX, I was writing Congress to create a center like no other to address the issue of health inequities. I had written grant applications through the standard funding mechanism, only to be told that the biopsychosocial approach I was proposing to address this issue was not real science. I once wrote back to a review committee, paraphrasing Albert Einstein, saying how can one expect an intelligent review from a panel of individuals who benefit from the problem? It is in the vested interest of the beneficiary to continue the situation.