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Residents of low-income and minority communities in Brooklyn are 30 percent more likely to suffer from health problems than residents of Manhattan as a whole. Citing statistics like these, Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz gathered with members of the health care community on Wednesday to celebrate a $1.1 million grant from National Institute for Health to establish a new Brooklyn Center on Health Disparities.

A project of SUNY Downstate Medical Center and the Arthur Ashe Institute for Urban Health, the center will provide research and educational resources to better bridge the borough’s health care gaps. “For far too long, our diverse communities have represented a disproportionate share of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and AIDS cases,” said Markowitz. “We’re devoted to making Brooklyn the picture of health it deserves to be.”

A March 2002 report by the Institute of Medicine found that communities of color tend to receive lower quality of health care than whites do, even when insurance status, income, age, and condition severity are comparable. And a report from the Department of Health released earlier this year found that disparities between the rich and poor in the city are widening when it comes to overall health, life expectancy, and infant mortality. Located temporarily at SUNY’s facilities in East Flatbush, the new center will focus on identifying the factors that cause these discrepancies, and providing outreach efforts to address them.

The center will use the three-year grant to expand the programs currently providing cardiovascular health education in Brooklyn, where heart disease is the leading cause of death. Since implementing its program in 1998, the institute has been training workers at beauty parlors, barbershops and churches in public health issues, knowing that they serve as valuable conduits of information. Now they’re hoping to expand their efforts to directly educate those who may not know they’re at risk.

“We see this not only as a resource for Brooklyn, but the nation,” said Dr. Luther Clark, chief of cardiology at SUNY Downstate, Brooklyn’s only academic medical center. “This is just the beginning of a concept whose time has come.”

—Janelle Nanos

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