News Releases

News Releases

DHEC Partners with SC Community Leaders to Eliminate Health Disparities

Calls on Community-Driven Solutions to Ensure a Healthier Future for Every South Carolinian

April 8, 2022

COLUMBIA, SC – In conjunction with National Public Health Week (NPHW) – April 4-10, 2022 – the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) announced it will expand its own work as well as partnerships with community members and organizations to eliminate health disparities in our state to give all South Carolinians an opportunity to attain optimal health outcomes.

“While we have come a long way in our work toward our vision of South Carolina as a state where healthy people – people of all races and ethnicities, ages and genders, and across all parts of our great state – live in healthy communities, there are still significant disparities in health outcomes across our state,” said DHEC Director Edward Simmer, MD, MPH, DFAPA. “I am convinced that by working together with our many outstanding partners and involving community members themselves we can eliminate the disparities present in our state today and provide a healthier future for all South Carolinians.”

To read what community leaders across the state of South Carolina are saying, click here.

The agency’s announcement comes as the state prepares to move from COVID-19 as a pandemic to an endemic.

“Long-standing health disparities were highlighted in South Carolina and across the United States by COVID-19’s devastating and disproportionate impact on many in our communities,” said Dr. Brannon Traxler, DHEC Public Health Director. “Also emphasized was the strength of our people to come together and take swift actions to address inequities and protect one another. It is incumbent on all of us not to lose sight of this momentum and continue the hard work to resolve inequities that limit our state’s health outcomes whether they are related to race, ethnic group, gender, socioeconomic status, or any other factor.”

Early in the pandemic local and national data show that African Americans and other minority populations were not only disproportionately impacted by this disease, but also had lower rates of vaccination against COVID-19. Specifically, in March 2021, the Black and Hispanic populations had lower vaccination rates when compared to the White population (7% and 11% lower, respectively).

Recognizing the seriousness of this issue, DHEC, working with external partners like the NAACP, AME Church, Latinx media outlets, and many other faith-based and community service organizations, focused on resolving this disparity. The intent of this work was to enhance local efforts by working with local partners who know and are trusted by their communities and can help public health officials identify where people are and get the vaccine out as quickly and equitably as possible while maximizing the current supply of doses, which were initially limited. The result of these efforts are African Americans and Hispanics are now more likely to be vaccinated than other groups in South Carolina.

While COVID-19 exposed health disparities in a manner unlike any crisis before it, it also stimulated increased use of community-based partnerships as powerful tools to bolster South Carolina’s pandemic response. Those same tools can help eliminate long-standing health disparities that have negatively affected people based on race, ethnicity, gender, disabilities, income, and more.

“Many of the disparities impacting health outcomes in South Carolina and across the nation have developed over a long period of time as a result of discriminatory policies and practices,” said Dr. Linda Bell, South Carolina State Epidemiologist. “Eliminating these disparities will take time but will bring meaningful change in the health of South Carolinians. We must not allow the difficulty of the challenge dissuade us from the doing the work needed to make this change.”

Today, a growing body of research shows that social determinants of health—such as access to quality preventive health care and sick care, education, social connectedness, healthy food, housing, wealth, and employment—play a key role in health inequities. This includes communities of color, rural settings, and households with low socioeconomic status, among others. As a result, people within these populations are placed at greater risk for not only poor health outcomes, but poor outcomes in life.

Addressing the social determinants remains a vital part of health and healthcare. DHEC continues its work to address the social determinants of health and advance health equity in partnership with community leaders, organizations, and community members across the state.

“We didn’t get here overnight,” Simmer said, “and we will not solve these issues in a day. Given the gravity of this issue, DHEC fully understands that we have much more work to do, and we are committed to doing so.”

The agency encourages everyone to learn more and join local efforts to eliminate the disparities in their communities and support a healthier future for every South Carolinian. Click here for additional information about DHEC and its partners work around health disparities in South Carolina.



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