The economic boom of the 1990s brought improved health conditions for most people in the United States. It wasn’t a dramatic increase, more like a trickle-down effect. Federal dollars went into the health system due to the massive pressure from public health and medical groups.

Responding to pressure for greater emphasis on prevention of illness and diseases, Democratic senators and representatives and the White House put resources behind the effort. This kind of effort can bring good results and it did.

“In many ways, Americans of all ages and in every racial and ethnic group have better health today,” Surgeon General David Satcher said. “But our work isn’t done until all infants have the same chance to thrive, all mothers have equal access to prenatal care, and all Americans are equally protected from cancer, heart disease, and stroke.”

But, this good news is coupled with the old nemesis of our country: racism. The federal government’s commitment to health care is implemented through the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). A press release from the CDC said, “One of the goals of the Healthy People Initiative is to reduce disparities in health. Notable progress was made in reducing the gap in syphilis case rates and stroke death rates. However, for about half of the indicators the disparities improved only slightly, and disparities actually widened substantially for work-related injury deaths, motor vehicle crash deaths and suicide.”

The gaps between health status for African Americans and whites are dramatic. For example, take tuberculosis (TB), a disease that should have been eliminated completely in the United States. The TB rate for Black people is eight times that of whites; six times as high for Hispanics as compared to whites. TB is a disease of poverty.

Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) are a good example of where health professional and community intervention makes a clear difference.

“A clear lesson for public health is that efforts to achieve progress for all must be targeted and tailored to the needs of specific groups,” said Dr. Jeffrey P. Koplan, director of CDC. “For example, the drop in the syphilis rate followed an intensive campaign to eliminate syphilis community by community.” The rate of STD infection for Black people is currently 30 times that of whites.

The value of federal collection of data that documents class and race is crucial to determining the extent to which all people in the United States are benefiting from economic and social policies. Pressure must be placed on all federal studies and those studies funded by taxpayer dollars to make sure that class, including wages levels, and race be documented.

To correct these disparities there must be special efforts to reach people who are being left behind, and the racist results of discriminatory funding must be corrected.

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