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In a live webcast today — and on the eve of a potential government shutdown — the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services launched the National Partnership for Action (NPA) to End Health Disparities, the government’s first-ever strategic action plan aimed at eliminating health disparities.

We participated in the launch event via Twitter (we’re @SchweitzerASF), and we’re feeling energized and inspired by the substantive, thoughtful conversations that marked both the launch itself and the online chatter that accompanied it. (If you’re on Twitter, you can search for tweets hashtagged #NPA to catch up on the latter.)

Basically, the NPA’s strategic plan — developed, encouragingly, from the ground up, with input from thousands of community members and health practitioners —  has five focus areas:

  • Transforming health care access;
  • Strengthening the country’s health and services workforce so that it can provide comprehensive, effective care to underserved populations (very much in line with ASF’s mission);
  • Building more responsive/reflective health care systems;
  • Improving data collection; and
  • Increasing cultural competency.

Though the tight timeframe of the launch event — which was very capably emceed by Dr. Garth Graham (Deputy Assistant Secretary for Minority Health) — didn’t allow for in-depth probing of the plan’s specifics, we were excited to hear that those specifics will include 30 specific strategies for ending health disparities — including providing more resources to community health centers, creating an online registry of medical interpreters, and encouraging the training and support of promotores (lay health promoters).

“We have a roadmap for lasting change,” said Dr. Howard Koh, Assistant HHS Secretary for Health, at the beginning of the launch. “We have the power to make this country healthier for all people … but it is up to us to realize this vision and hold ourselves to it.”

“This is a very important moment — we are acknowledging that we have equity issues in health care that need to be addressed,” echoed Sen. Ben Cardin of Maryland. “For too long, we’ve seen minority populations see less treatment, less access, and less research.”

Like ASF’s programming, the NPA plan emphasizes the importance of interdisciplinary collaboration and coordination (“These issues collectively require those of us beyond public health to pull together if we are to achieve our goal,” said Dr. Marguerite Ro), as well as a focus on the social determinants of health (“We can’t address health inequities without understanding the factors that contribute to them in the first place,” said Dr. Yanira Cruz).

“A lot of folks have been waiting for this fire to be ignited,” said Dr. Graham. “Let’s make sure we take this flame and move forward.”

Did you participate in the launch event? What do you think of the new NPA plan to end health disparities — and how will its recommendations impact your day-to-day interactions with patients, clients, and members of surrounding communities?