April 1, 2012  

Charles R. Drew University of Medicine and Science Research Offers Hope During Minority Health Month

Extensive Research is Being Conducted to Reduce Health Disparities for Leading Causes of Death among Minorities

 Los Angeles - (April 1, 2012) – April is Minority Health Month and while great strides are being made through research and outreach by Charles R. Drew University of Medicine and Science (CDU) to reduce health disparities among minorities with respect to heart disease/stroke, cancer, diabetes and AIDS prevention, there is still a long way to go.  Health status disparities experienced by racial/ethnic minorities and the socioeconomically disadvantaged continue to be a major challenge to the U.S. health care system. Despite over a decade of research efforts and a substantial commitment of research resources, these differential outcomes have persisted and in some instances disparities have actually increased. The persistent failure to reduce the health status gap experienced by racial/ethnic minorities provides a highly compelling argument to aggressively identify and implement new and more effective prevention and intervention strategies. 

Currently, heart disease along with stroke is the leading killer across most racial and ethnic minority communities in the United States. However, African American men and women are 30% more likely to die from heart disease than non-Hispanic white males.  Mexican Americans, who make up the largest share of the U.S. Hispanic population, suffer increased rates from overweight and obesity, two of the leading risk factors for heart disease. Premature cardiovascular death was also higher for Hispanics (23.5%) than non-Hispanics (16.5%).   Says Dr. David Martins, Assistant Dean for Clinical and Community Affairs at CDU, “Currently, we are exploring the role of vitamin D in the prevention of heart disease and diabetes, along with a regimen of diet and exercise.  We are also exploring video game exercises as a means of heart disease prevention, especially for patients who live in communities where it may not be safe to go outdoors for exercise.   High blood pressure is a large contributor to heart disease.  People just assume because they feel well, they are well.  We encourage everyone to get their blood pressure checked annually if normal.  If not is not normal, they should be checked more often by a health care professional and if it is elevated, they should get care immediately.  A tablet of aspirin a day reduces your risk of stroke and heart disease.”

Cancer is the second leading cause of death for most racial and ethnic minorities in the United States. For Asians and Pacific Islanders, it is the number one killer. Cancer hits African Americans particularly hard. “We have the opportunity to reduce cancer health disparities in all populations and in particular in minority and underserved populations, through cancer prevention, research, and clinical care” says Dr. Jay Vadgama, Chief of the Division of Cancer Research and Training and the Center to Eliminate Cancer Health Disparities. Dr. Vadgama is also Associate Vice President for Research and Health Affairs at CDU. The Cancer Center at CDU has been funded in partnership with UCLA Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center by the National Cancer Institute to form a collaboration that addresses the unequal burden that cancer places on underprivileged populations. The partnership is engaged in targeting breast, colorectal, and prostate cancers, important health issues in the community served by CDU.   The partnership continues to grow attracting more students, researchers, and community members to participate in the mission of the center to eliminate cancer health disparities.

HIV/AIDS has had a devastating impact on minorities in the United States. Racial and ethnic minorities accounted for almost 71 percent of the newly diagnosed cases of HIV infection in 2009.  In the African American community, HIV infections have become an epidemic. African Americans accounted for half of all HIV infections cases diagnosed in 2009. HIV/AIDS is also spreading at a rapid rate in the Hispanic community. Hispanics accounted for 20 percent of AIDS cases in 2009, despite making up only 15 percent of the U.S. population.

“At CDU, we are working to decrease the incidence of HIV/AIDS through a combination of innovative research and service delivery,” says Associate Professor and researcher Dr. Nina Harawa of CDU.  Dr. Harawa’s research involves three main areas, behaviorally bisexual African American men; African American women and Latinas with risky male partners, and incarceration.  Research shows that the highest incidence of HIV is in African American men who have sex with men.  Most women are infected by sex with a man.  Hence, it is important to work with both of these groups to truly understand the spread of HIV/AIDS.  Says Dr. Harawa, “Our work with HIV/AIDS also addresses the complicated views of gender, race, and sexuality that can facilitate both silence and ongoing risk behaviors in these groups.  Specifically, we have been testing innovative prevention interventions to increase condom use, reduce numbers of partners and increase HIV testing in these groups.  Initial results show the interventions may be successful at achieving these behavior changes.”  Dr. Harawa’s research also involves examining condom distribution in-custody for men who have sex with men.  The Los Angeles and San Francisco jails are among the few facilities in the United States with condom distribution programs for those in custody.  States Dr. Harawa, “My evaluation research has indicated that these programs can be implemented successfully and gain the acceptance of both inmates and custody personnel, despite initial concerns.”

Cynthia Davis, Assistant Professor in the Medical Sciences Institute at CDU has been a trail blazer in HIV/AIDS community outreach and mobilization. Professor Davis has been involved in HIV primary prevention initiatives on a national and local level since 1986.  Professor Davis initiated the first pilot demonstration mobile HIV testing program in Los Angeles County in 1991, and has provided HIV testing, counseling and referral services to over 60,000 community residents for the past 21 years.  Says Davis, "In the third decade of the HIV/AIDS pandemic, HIV/AIDS continues to disproportionately impact African American women, youth and men who have sex with men.  This is a disease which is 100% preventable but due to denial, fear, stigma, homophobia, and lack of access to health care, HIV/AIDS continues to ravage our community.  The CDC currently recommends that everyone aged 14 to 64 in the U.S. obtain an annual HIV test".  Davis is also involved in preliminary research which examines depression in HIV positive/negative Latinos residing in South Los Angeles as well as another study around the social determinants of HIV incidence and prevalence among at-risk sexually active adolescents residing in South Los Angeles.        

Concludes Keith C. Norris, M.D., FACP, Professor of Medicine, and Executive VP for Research and Health Affairs at CDU, “In keeping with its mission to conduct education, research and clinical services in the context of community engagement to train health professionals who promote wellness, provide care with excellence and compassion, and transform the health of underserved communities, CDU is working aggressively to reduce the incidence of these diseases.  Minority Health Month allows us the opportunity to shine a spotlight on our community and encourage all to be screened by a health professional.  Effective communication is key to prevention, early detection, and ultimately improved patient outcomes.” 


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About Charles R. Drew University of Medicine and Science
CDU is a private, nonprofit, nonsectarian, minority-serving medical and health sciences institution.  Located in the Watts-Willowbrook area of South Los Angeles, CDU has graduated more than 550 medical doctors, 2,500 post-graduate physicians, more than 2,000 physician assistants and hundreds of other health professionals.  The only dually designated Historically Black Graduate Institution and Hispanic Serving Health Professions School in the U.S., CDU is recognized as a leader in translational and health inequities research, specifically with respect to heart disease, diabetes, cancer, mental health, and HIV/AIDS.  Recently, the CDU/UCLA medical program was named the “best performer” in the University of California System with respect to producing outstanding underrepresented minority physicians by the Greenlining Institute.  For more information, visit .


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