Making the Elimination of Health Disparities a Personal Priority

Making the Elimination of Health Disparities a Personal Priority” Philippine Journal of Nursing. PJN Vol. 83 No. 1 June 2013

Author: Rachel Safeek

Publication in Philippine Journal of Nursing

Publication in Philippine Journal of Nursing

I never intended to turn a family reunion upside down, but that is precisely what happened after I arrived home from my freshman year at Duke University. My family expected me to pursue a course of study heavily embedded within the biological sciences. However, I enrolled in FOCUS, a specialized interdisciplinary curriculum in Global Health and delved into health disparities education, research, and service.

Before FOCUS, it never occurred to me the manner and degree to which healthcare was more than just applications of the sciences. Mine was a myopic view of what healthcare was: administering care and treatment to the sick. I was unaware of the many social determinants of health, such as the struggle for basic socio-economic rights, e.g. access to food, water, adequate housing. FOCUS offered me insight into how denial of basic human rights leads to inequities in healthcare.

My new course of study aroused a passion in me to center my college education on studies in Global Health, proposing my own major, “Health Policy, Human Rights, and Health Disparities.” By studying healthcare as a human rights issue, I realize that diseases can also be prevented by combating structural barriers via health policy. Initially, I pursued research studies around HIV/AIDS transmission among African-American women in Durham, NC, as there is a higher rate of transmission among this group. Later, I joined and am now director of Know Your Status, a student-run organization on campus that provides free rapid HIV testing to raise awareness about risky sexual behaviors. Finally, I pursued studies in a public health and human rights-themed study abroad program based in Salvador, Brazil involving health disparities and social injustices.

After a semester in Brazil, I returned to the United States empowered by individuals I met and uplifted through the studies. My passion for working with marginalized, HIV/AIDS populations led me to apply for an independent project grant through DukeEngage. Armed with the grant, I returned to Salvador to volunteer with female sex workers as a service project. I noted the unacceptable rates at which women reported illness due to HIV and other STI’s in a country known for its universal healthcare. I studied the protection of sex worker rights in Brazil, and national programs aimed at reducing rates of HIV transmission among sex workers, as rates comprise a principal disparity in women’s health.

In the future, I plan to return to Brazil and continue my work with marginalized populations and disparities in women’s health. I also plan to pursue an MD/MPH, with the intention of working with minority communities and marginalized populations within the United States and abroad. As an aspiring physician, I feel a moral obligation to properly gain insight into societal barriers in healthcare by working in solidarity with marginalized and vulnerable populations.

With former Surgeon General Satcher, I would be interested in discussing the realization of healthcare as a human right in the United States, and whether this is foreseeable in the near future. I believe that in order to fully combat health disparities, one must acknowledge that healthcare is a human right. Realizing healthcare as a right is key to reducing disparities in health status and socio-economic conditions which impact health status as social injustices. I believe that with the expansion of healthcare coverage via the Affordable Care Act, our nation may have taken its first step to realizing the universal healthcare dream. My question is, when in the near future will the dream of universal healthcare be acknowledged through policy, and what steps can be taken to promote it?

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