News Center for Community Health Partnership & Research Health Equity

Collaborative Café features new series on health equity and research beginning April 8

Written by Kim Furlow, communications manager for the Institute for Public Health

The Center for Community Health Partnership and Research at the Institute for Public Health and the Institute of Clinical and Translational Sciences, are set to host a unique four-part series on health equity and research with two sessions in April and two in June. Center co-Director (IPH) Vetta Sanders Thompson, PhD, the E. Desmond Lee Professor of Racial and Ethnic Diversity, will moderate the April 8 event, “Breaking Down Buzzwords: Equity”. Center co-Director (ICTS) and Professor of Medicine, Angela L. Brown, MD, moderates the April 19 session, “Focusing on Equity in the Research Process”. The June sessions in the series will be announced later.

Sanders Thompson and Brown agree that before we can find solutions to health disparities, we must first understand the definition of health equity, one of the points to be discussed at the series’ first session.

“Equity is about getting everyone the resources needed to live, work, play and thrive. This is very different from distributing the same resources to everyone. We know that through laws, policies, and practices our country has created barriers to everyone having access to needed resources. If we continue to treat everyone the same, we cannot overcome the history of mistreatment.”

–Vetta Sanders Thompson, PhD

“Equity is people having what they need at any given time to support their daily needs and well-being. The goal is for everyone to live long healthy lives, but to achieve this, people need different levels and types of support at different times. Equity means addressing their specific needs in a way that overcomes barriers that impede progress, whether those barriers are social or systemic.”

–Angela Brown, MD

How do we begin to achieve public health equity? In terms of how our society can best correlate the two, Sanders Thompson suggests that a process of multiple steps is involved and offers a simplified version:

  1. Gather data on diseases, and the factors that increase and reduce them;
  2. Identify the community resources needed to promote health and how these resources are allocated;
  3. Use data to determine the people most vulnerable to diseases, as well as population risks and protective factors; and,
  4. Develop prevention and health promotion strategies that direct resources at the levels appropriate given the population’s burden and need.

Brown adds, “Barriers to equity, particularly for healthy living, must be understood and addressed at multiple levels. Public health strives to do so by using science to guide policy, advocacy and other strategies that will protect health by preventing disease and promoting well-being for our communities, and the individuals who live, work, and play there.”

What is equity in research and how do we achieve it? Sanders Thompson says research should not make health outcomes worse but rather, reduce the differences that exist. She adds, “It is important in achieving medical and health benefits that we understand from a historical perspective, the difference between equity and equality. We focus on who has needs and what the needs are. One strategy used in equitable research is to ask questions that address the needs of the most vulnerable.”

Brown concurs, “Equity in research implies that everyone is on the same page to conduct research that is beneficial and not harmful. Researchers must ensure that the research is inclusive and conducted in partnership with communities without being burdensome. We must make sure everyone’s voice is heard and respected.”

Both moderators say that the new Collaborative Café series on equity is important for students, faculty, staff and the public to attend. According to Brown, “It will provide a deeper dive into understanding equity from multiple perspectives. It’s important for everyone to speak the same language, particularly when delving into shared space for research, advocacy and other partnerships.”

Sanders Thompson says audience take-aways from the series will include an understanding of equity in its many forms – racial, gender, economic, educational, health, and public health equity. “The series provides the basis for ‘level setting’. Participants should walk away with clearer definitions and a shared vocabulary,” she says. “They should also gain insight into strategies for applying an ‘equity lens’ to their education, research and lives in general.”

This equity series is being presented as part of the center’s Collaborative Cafe, an event series offering opportunities for researchers and community partners to network, share experiences, and learn from each other.