Published August 22, 2019
Faculty, staff, students and administrators from throughout the university took part in “Igniting Hope: Building a Culture of Health and Ending African American Health Disparities” held last weekend in the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences.
The purpose of the conference, now in its second year, is to address and reverse the health disparities that contribute to the fact that, for example, African Americans living in Erie County are nearly twice as likely as whites to die before their 75th birthday. The conference was convened by the African American Health Disparities Task Force, which was established in 2015 to eliminate race/ethnicity-based health disparities among African Americans in Buffalo by addressing the social determinants of health.
A highlight of the conference was the announcement Saturday that the Erie County Medical Center is allocating $372,000 in funds for the initial launch of the Buffalo Center for African American Health Equity, which will address health disparities by focusing on health issues affecting residents of Buffalo’s East Side. The center will focus on research, public policy, advocacy and programmatic responses to the social determinants of health, according to conference convener Rev. George F. Nicholas, a member of the African American Health Disparities Task Force and pastor of Lincoln Memorial United Methodist Church.
Keynote speakers at the conference were Moro Salifu, a faculty member at SUNY Downstate Health Sciences University and director of the Brooklyn Health Disparities Center, which is committed to reducing health disparities in Brooklyn, and Lisa A. Nicholas, an obstetrics/gynecology specialist at UCLA Health.
John Ruffin, founding director of the National Institute on Minority and Health Disparities of the National Institutes of Health, and president and CEO of ConsulStart Inc., and Kinzer M. Pointer, chair of the Board of Managers of Millennium Collaborative Care and pastor of Agape Fellowship Baptist Church, also addressed the conference.
Prior to Salifu’s talk on Friday, Shawn Gibson, a student in the Class of 2022 in the Jacobs School, addressed the group. Gibson, a New York City native, talked about the importance of efforts at the Jacobs School to increase the number of students from underrepresented groups in medical school. He also discussed the work of the Student National Medical Association, the national association for medical students from underrepresented groups that is dedicated to increasing the number of clinically excellent, culturally competent and socially conscious physicians. Gibson is president of UB’s chapter.
He talked about how he uses his experience as a first-generation college student to mentor pre-medical students. And he noted that medical students need to step up to the challenge and work collectively to help improve communities and lessen the disparities gap.
Many UB faculty members and students participated or spoke at the conference, including Alan Lesse, senior associate dean for medical curriculum; Tim Murphy, SUNY Distinguished Professor and director of the Clinical and Translational Science Institute; and Charles F. Zukoski, provost and executive vice president for academic affairs.
Most of Saturday was devoted to breakout sessions that explored the breadth of areas in which African Americans experience health disparities — from maternal health and historic trauma, to nutrition, tobacco and ticketing, where African-Americans in poor neighborhoods are levied disproportionate fines and fees for minor violations.
“The goal was to identify coalitions of individuals willing to work on each of the themes and to identify short-, medium- and long-term goals for coalitions working on policy, advocacy, and service or program solutions,” said Heather Orom, associate dean for equity, diversity and inclusion and associate professor in the Department of Community Health and Health Behavior in the School of Public Health and Health Professions.
The sessions were facilitated by student volunteers from the School of Public Health and Health Professions, the School of Nursing, the School of Law and the Jacobs School.