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Welcome Address: A Message from the Director

Printable Version
John Ruffin, Ph.D.

During the past few decades generous funding of biomedical and behavioral research by the Congress has resulted in a multitude of scientific advances contributing to improved health and quality of life. This national effort has been so successful that the Congress has engaged in doubling the NIH budget over a five-year period. During this process the Congress and Americans across the country have become increasingly aware that the health of minorities and other health disparity populations has not benefitted from our nation’s progress in scientific discovery due to a wide range and variety of disparities in health outcomes attributable to race, ethnicity, gender, or lack of access to health care. It is clear that the American people are deeply concerned about these health inequities. A recent survey by Research!America found that over ninety percent of the American public advocates concerted research efforts to overcome these health disparities.

We are fortunate that the Congress shares these concerns and in its wisdom has created at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) the National Center on Minority Health and Health Disparities (NCMHD).This new Center represents a significant evolution of the former NIH Office of Research on Minority Health (ORMH).Our statutory authorities are definitive and robust. The Congress created the Center with a clear mandate for “the conduct and support of research, training, dissemination of information, and other programs with respect to minority health conditions and other populations with health disparities” (Public Law 106-525).The law greatly expands the reach of the Center to include for the first time other health disparity populations as well, meaning any group exhibiting significant disparities in the overall rate of disease incidence and prevalence, morbidity and mortality, and survival rates as compared to the health status of the general population. The new Center is considered an equal partner with the many other NIH Institutes and Centers. With its generous funding and new authorities, the Center will be able to build upon the many collaborative research endeavors previously undertaken by the ORMH and the Institutes and Centers.

Some have asked me about my vision for the new Center. The key to this vision is embodied in what the creation of the Center represents as expressed by the Congress and the American people. That key is "inclusion". Now, with the support of the Congress and the Administration, I believe the time has come when we can eliminate the health disparities that afflict so many of our citizens. Now we can all sit at the table as one, working together as a nation, to close the health gap as an intrinsic part of ensuring the health of all Americans. We have access to the great power, expertise, and resources of the NIH to support us in this effort. Now, we can proceed boldly to ensure that all Americans will experience the benefits derived from cutting-edge biomedical, behavioral, and social science research and research training.

These new opportunities are indeed real ones and the promise they bring already is with us. Our vision of the future is a collective one that is fundamentally linked to the development of our NIH strategic plan for the reduction and ultimate elimination of health disparities. I am pleased to report that the reach of the Center is both broad and deep and the many partnerships we have developed will serve as the guiding force in preparing the elements of our plan. We have established working linkages with every state health agency. We now can reach within every county and parish in the nation, even to the individual level. We also have established relationships with numerous other stakeholders, including research scientists, professional and scientific organizations, health care providers, consumer advocacy groups, academic institutions, educators, industry, and a multitude of leaders within health disparity population groups. We have established an advisory council that includes a wide range of recognized experts in minority and other health disparities and a number of individuals affected by these disparities. I am thankful for the efforts and advice that we already have received from all of these groups and individuals. We will ask them to join with us as we continue to refine the strategic plan. We also will work with them ultimately to disseminate our research findings across the country.

We are fortunate that the Congress provided authority for the center to undertake a number of programs to assist in accomplishing the Center’s mission. In addition to funding investigator-initiated research grants, we provide funding to institutions or consortia to develop centers of excellence in biomedical and behavioral research, research training, and community outreach for individuals who are members of minority populations or other health disparity populations. We also provide for research endowments at centers of excellence to facilitate their research. In addition, we have established an extramural loan repayment program for health professionals who engage in minority health research or research into other health disparities. By reaching the next generation of students, our programs will ensure that our nation has a strong cadre of researchers in these areas. This is so important, because our success ultimately will depend upon our ability to prepare young Americans to assume future roles in all of our activities.

I accept the position of Director of the new Center with gratitude and humility. I am thankful to have received the role to help shepherd our efforts toward the vision that we share. Having devoted the past 25 years of my life to improving the health status of minority populations, I bring my own energy and enthusiasm to pursue the many opportunities that lie ahead. I am thankful to the Congress and the American people who had the wisdom and compassion to have our nation embark on this noble endeavor. I am also proud to join in these efforts with my colleagues at the NIH, the world leader in biomedical and behavioral sciences. Together we will accomplish our goal of making “inclusion” a reality, ensuring the health of all Americans.



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