Reflecting on Progress
This week we celebrate the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Although he is often remembered for his work in the area of social justice, he understood very clearly the significance of health equality. "Of all forms of inequity, injustice in health is the most inhumane," Dr. King once stated.
This Thursday, I will have the honor of introducing Dr. LaSalle D. Leffall, Jr., as the keynote speaker at the NIH Commemorative Martin Luther King, Jr., Program. A noted cancer surgeon and the current chair of the President's Cancer Panel, Dr. Leffall has long been a leading voice on health disparities. He has lived the dream that Dr. King envisioned, making immense contributions to society based on the content of his character, not the color of his skin.
The celebration of Dr. King's legacy, however, is a stark reminder that many of the challenges that existed 3 and 4 decades ago still persist. While disparities in care now are well documented and recognized, we have lagged in our ability to bridge the disparity gap. And while NCI and others in the cancer community are working to change that, the fact is that too many minority and low-income people in the United States still do not have access to or don't receive the care they need and deserve.
To address this access issue, we recently initiated the NCI Community Cancer Centers Program (NCCCP) to study prevention, screening and treatment, and patient education. NCCCP will bring state-of-the-art, multispecialty care and early phase clinical trials to the community setting. Currently, about 85 percent of cancer patients receive care in the community where they live.
My participation in the commemorative program is only part of what we are doing to commemorate Dr. King's life and enact positive change. NCI's Center to Reduce Cancer Health Disparities (CRCHD) is reaching out to minority communities affected by cancer through a coordinated radio campaign designed to introduce more members of special populations to the Center and its work.
Through interviews largely on radio networks that serve Spanish-speaking and African American audiences, CRCHD representatives will discuss the Center's mission and provide listeners with information about cancer prevention, screening, treatment, and disparities-related research.
The campaign began on January 11, with Dr. H. Nelson Aguila of NCI's Comprehensive Minority Biomedical Branch conducting interviews on three major Spanish-speaking radio networks that reach U.S. and Latin American audiences.
Later this week, Acting CRCHD Director Dr. Sanya Springfield, along with other CRCHD staff, will conduct similar interviews with national minority radio networks. Also, today, Dr. Yvonne Vargas from NCI's Division of Cancer Prevention is appearing live on the nationally broadcast Dialogo: Costa a Costa (Dialogue: Coast to Coast) to discuss cervical cancer and Latinas, in conjunction with Cervical Cancer Awareness Month. These interviews will be catalogued soon at http://www.radiospace.com/NewsDirect.html#Health and http://www.radioespacio.net/salud.htm.
While there is much to be done to address cancer care disparities, outreach and education will continue to be an integral component of NCI's efforts. At a time when Dr. King is being celebrated for championing the voices of the unheard, we are proud to be reaching out to those who may benefit from our work the most but may know us the least.
Dr. John E. Niederhuber