Mission Possible: Healthy Lives for Everyone

April 24, 2018|3:03 p.m.| Leandris C. Liburd, PhD, MPH, MA

Leandris C. Liburd, PhD, MPH, MA
Leandris C. Liburd, PhD, MPH, MA
Associate director for the Office of Minority Health and Health Equity at CDC

This Minority Health Month, guest author Leandris Liburd reflects on her career in state and local public health, the value of partnerships between public health and other sectors, and the future of health equity across the nation.

This year as I reflect on the theme for National Minority Health Month, Partnering for Health Equity, I am reminded of my early days in state and local public health. I started my career working with sanitarians, distributing flyers about lead poisoning screening, and serving as a health educator for diabetes self-management education and other behavioral risk factor reduction counseling. During these early experiences, I learned that it is vital to know your communities, engage them in decisions about strategies for addressing public health concerns, and recognize the influence of the social and environmental context on community health and opportunities to attain the best health possible.

Partnerships between public health and other sectors can create social and economic conditions that promote better health. It is important for state public health leaders to decide what achieving health equity would look like in their state or in selected communities across the state. They should identify persons in positions of influence and community leaders who share the same vision and are willing to leverage their influence to achieve changes that reduce inequities and create a path toward greater health equity. There are many examples of successful partnerships between state health departments and community-based organizations working to reduce health disparities. You can find some examples of this in A Practitioner’s Guide for Advancing Health Equity: Community Strategies for Preventing Chronic Disease.

Fast forward to 2018: I have brought the lessons I learned with me to my current role. I’m honored to be CDC’s associate director for minority health and health equity as we celebrate 30 years of having a CDC office dedicated to minority health. As we celebrate a yearlong commemoration of the 30th anniversary of CDC’s Office of Minority Health and Health Equity (OMHHE), I am mindful of why it is important to take the time to examine, document, and celebrate an organization’s history. According to Seaman Jr. and Smith, “A sophisticated understanding of the past is one of the most powerful tools we have for shaping the future.”

Over the past 30 years, both the discourse of minority health and the complexities associated with reducing and eliminating health disparities have evolved. The discourse has shifted to include eliminating racial and ethnic health disparities, overcoming health inequities, addressing social determinants of health, and achieving health equity. We now understand that not all health differences are health disparities. According to Healthy People 2020, health disparities are “a particular type of health difference that is closely linked with social, economic, and/or environmental disadvantage. Health disparities adversely affect groups of people who have systematically experienced greater obstacles to health based on their racial or ethnic group; religion; socioeconomic status; gender; age; mental health; cognitive, sensory, or physical disability; sexual orientation or gender identity; geographic location; or other characteristics historically linked to discrimination or exclusion.” This awareness has given rise to global and national attention to the impact of the social determinants of health, and the need for multi-sectoral partnerships to address factors that impact population health, but are outside of the traditional purview of public health.

During this time of reflection, I think about how OMHHE can continue to support states in advancing health equity. OMHHE sponsors the CDC Undergraduate Public Health Scholars (CUPS) internship program with five partner institutions, creating a public health workplace experience to increase student interest in minority health and thus ultimately enhancing the public health workforce. Through reports such as the CDC Health Disparities and Inequalities Report and other publications, we identify health disparities and address the factors that lead to them so barriers to health equity can be removed. Together, we can utilize key partnerships, growing research and data, and the mission of public health to advance health equity across the nation. I look forward to visiting with states in 2018 to discuss how we can make the mission of “healthy lives for everyone” possible.

Leandris Liburd, PhD, MPH, MA is the associate director for the Office of Minority Health and Health Equity at CDC. In this role she leads a wide range of critical functions in the agency’s work in minority health and health equity, women’s health, and diversity and inclusion management.