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Health care disparities to be discussed at conference

Two national experts on health care disparities will be in Buffalo Saturday as part of a major conference on health and equity organized to spark local initiatives to address the problem.

The "Igniting Hope" conference – a collaboration among the University at Buffalo, the African American Health Disparities Task Force, Millennium Collaborative Care, Erie County Medical Center, Population Health Collaborative and Greater Buffalo United Churches – runs from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. in UB's Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences.

Despite improvements over the decades, big racial gaps persist in health care for a host of conditions, offering a basic measure of public health that is alarming for a rich country.

In Erie County, for instance, blacks and Hispanics are hospitalized for diabetes far more often than whites, indicating a lack of access to and use of primary care services. A black baby here and elsewhere in the United States is more than twice as likely as a white newborn to die at birth.

"Race should not be a determining factor in your health," said the Rev. George Nicholas, pastor at Lincoln Memorial United Methodist Church in Buffalo.

Nicholas played a key role in a 2015 task force that reported on health care disparities in the African-American community. Little has changed since the group characterized the problem as a moral injustice and called for steps to address the social factors behind it, including poverty, poor education and lack of transportation.

"There is no indication that there's been much of any change for the positive," he said. "It's just not a priority, and we, as a community, need to make it one."

The speakers include Dr. Consuelo Wilkins, executive director of the Meharry-Vanderbilt Alliance in Tennessee and an expert in community health research, and Stephen Thomas, a leading scholar on eliminating racial and ethnic health disparities, and director of the University of Maryland Center for Health Equity.

Nicholas and others see the conference as a call to action, a forum to gather some of the region's key players with an interest and stake in organizing a formal initiative in Western New York to come up with policies and programs.

"It starts locally. We can't look to Washington, D.C., anytime soon for a solution to this issue," he said.

The event is free and open to the public. Visit tinyurl.com/ignitehope2018 to register online.

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