Scientists are still baffled by health disparities that have scarcely changed in the last several decades: the United States has spent an unnecessary $1.24 trillion on healthcare. These and other concerns were addressed at the 4th Annual Health Disparities Institute Thursday at Marriott Frenchman’s Reef on St. Thomas.
Delegate to Congress Donna Christensen shared some of her research as one of the speakers starting day one of the three-day conference. Over time, the United States has squandered $1.24 trillion due to inequality in the healthcare system, she said.
Concerned attendees voiced their fears that money issues would only add to the growing loss of funds for research programs and grants.
Christensen also commented that there is little progress because scientists are unsure as to the precise reason for health disparities despite several contributing factors, such as education, income, environment, and history having been identified.
“It is political will that will make the change… This is the civil rights movement of our time. We must move the mountains of ignorance, indifference, and racism,” asserted Christensen.
About 200 researchers from the United States and surrounding areas met at the Institute to discuss concerns and pose questions about health disparities and the future of equality in the U.S. healthcare system. They echoed the theme of the conference: Partnerships, Collaborations and Models to Reduce Health Disparities in the USVI.
While Christensen gave reasons for inequality in healthcare, most audience members wanted solutions. The nearly 30 poster presentations held throughout the day were an outlet for attendees to display and explain their research, pose questions, and discuss challenges on a more intimate scale, as well as suggest solutions.
Danielle Hollar of the University of Miami, Department of Medicine conducted a study measuring the effect of nutrition education and healthy lifestyle choices on weight, blood pressure, and test scores for children in low-income areas involved in the school lunch program. Most of the subjects were minorities.
“Minorities have more obstacles to overcome for economic security. You find that parents are working more and spending less time at home, so we’re educating the parents through the children. Kids are learning to make healthy choices at school and bringing that to their families,” said Hollar.
Another researcher, Edna Acosta Perez of the University of Puerto Rico, Medical Sciences Campus agreed with Hollar.
“We have to implement awareness and early intervention programs. We need better services in schools so we can start young, but we also need quality products and foods that are accessible to everyone,” said Perez.
Researchers like Perez and Hollar are taking preventative measures for the future, so that all groups can achieve comparable healthcare. They, like many of the attendees, hope that state and federal officials like Christensen can tackle the political aspects.
“This is about improving the quality of life for people who live in this territory,” said UVI President David Hall.