Sunday, March 7, 2010

Surgeon General Satcher: You Can't Have Good Health Without Good Policy

One day after President Obama vowed to do “everything in [his] power” to get health care reform passed in Congress, I had the opportunity to hear Former US Surgeon General Dr. David Satcher speak on the racial and ethnic inequalities in the United States’ health system at the Connecticut College 2010 Health Care Symposium. Satcher, who served as Surgeon General from 1998 to 2002, is the director of the Satcher Health Leadership Institute, established in 2006 to develop a diverse group of public health leaders, foster and support leadership strategies, and influence policies toward the reduction and ultimate elimination of disparities in health.

The health disparities between blacks and whites in America are huge; in terms of life expectancy, infant mortality rates, incidence of heart disease, cancer, and other common killers, African Americans are consistently much more likely to face serious issues for which they receive lesser care. In the simplest terms, Satcher’s argument was this: disparities are real and their determinants are clear, but it is impossible to have achieve equality without policy reform.

With African American babies more than twice as likely as Caucasian children to die in their first year of birth, Dr. Satcher focused much of his discussion on the importance of infant mortality initiatives. These programs address education, nutrition, prenatal care, physical environment, social factors, the health of the mother and child, and other crucial forms of assistance. However, in our own state, Governor Rell's Midterm Budget Adjustments have proposed to eliminate all funding for Fetal and Infant Mortality Review.

As evident from Dr. Satcher's keynote, state-level assistance programs are crucial. In all, his talk was an important reminder that not just health care, but the entire health system are in need of reform. Though education and outreach are equally important in combating deeply entrenched inequality, good health requires good policy and thus we at NARAL are committed to ensuring sexual and reproductive health, rights, and justice for all.

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