Blueprint Takes on Preparedness among Minority Communities

Article excerpt

Driven by the legacy of Hurricane Katrina and the looming possibility of an influenza pandemic or terror attack, a national group of public and private public health leaders released a detailed blueprint for disaster preparedness in U.S. minority communities.

The National Consensus Panel on Emergency Preparedness and Cultural Diversity, an initiative of the Drexel University School of Public Health's Center for Health Equality and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' Office of Minority Health, released conclusions in June, highlighting the inattention to disaster preparedness in minority communities. The blueprint suggests involving community members in public health emergency preparedness, with particular attention to "distinctive individual and community characteristics such as culture, language, literacy and trust." It calls for developing services, programs and policies that rely on mutual accountability from all levels of government as well as community members.

"Only through these comprehensive, unified efforts can we work to counter the legacy of racial and ethnic disparities and ensure that quality and equality for all communities form the foundation of the nation's planning for any and all public health emergencies," said the statement, which was released June 11 by the consensus panel.

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Research has shown that racial and ethnic minorities experience higher rates of injury, disease, traumatic stress, death and loss during public health emergencies. Possible explanations include societal patterns of neglect as well as factors such as culture and language barriers, distrust of service providers and lower perceived risk.

Whatever the reason for the disproportionate impact on minorities in the wake of public health emergencies, the entire nation needs to be involved in addressing the problem, Ulder Tillman, MD, MPH, county health officer for the Montgomery County Department of Health and Human Services in Maryland, told The Nation's Health.

"This is something you cannot ignore," Tillman said. "We've got to be inclusive in all our approaches."

Tillman represented APHA on the 34-member consensus panel, which also includes officials from several federal agencies, such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which has been widely criticized in its response to the unique needs of minority residents following Hurricane Katrina in 2005, when an estimated were black and about one-third were poor. …