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Five reasons we must increase diversity in medical research

(StatePoint) For better or worse, the COVID-19 pandemic highlights the devastating impact health inequities have on people of color; especially members of the Black and Hispanic/Latino communities.

Mentions of medical studies are at an all-time high, given the focus on the search for a COVID-19 vaccine; but it’s important to understand that research has existed since the advent of modern-day medicine. It is through research that we learn if a treatment is safe and works as it is supposed to.

Participation in medical research is particularly important if you are from a racially and/or ethnically diverse background because these groups have been historically underrepresented. Here are five reasons why this matters and what you can do for yourself and others.

1. Shifts in Population. According to U.S. Census data, Black/African Americans represent 13% and Hispanics/Latinos make up 18% of the U.S. population. However, from a clinical research perspective, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) reports that Blacks only represent 5-7% and Hispanic/Latinos 1-6% of the volunteers in medical research. Caucasians account for 67% of the population, but 83% of research participants.

2. Treatments proven to work for everyone. Medical research, and the people who volunteer for it, are essential to the development of ways to fight illnesses. Research has shown that certain populations can be at higher risk for different diseases, such as diabetes and heart disease. That’s why it’s important for studies to include diverse volunteers who represent the population most likely to be treated with the medicines or devices being studied.

3. Equal access to care. Everyone deserves quality healthcare but, unfortunately, not everyone has equal access to it. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, members of the Black/African American community are 30% more likely to die from heart disease than Caucasians. Additionally, The Center for American Progress reports that one in five Hispanics/Latinos in the U.S. don’t seek medical care due to language barriers.

4. Knowledge is power. Research shows that by putting your health first, you may fare better. As you learn more about your health risks, it’s important to consider learning about medical research that may benefit you. By volunteering, you might gain access to cutting-edge treatments and ensure your condition will be closely monitored. Talk to your doctor about the studies underway and search for clinical trials by visiting www.clinicaltrials.gov.

5. Safety for all study volunteers. It’s understood that there’s a level of mistrust in medical research based off historical abuses experienced by women and people of color. But today’s research is closely monitored to help ensure protection of all volunteers. When volunteering for a study, you will be given information explaining what will take place and before anything happens, you must give your approval to participate. If at any time you’re not comfortable, you have a voice to express your concerns with your physician.

One initiative working to improve inequities is the Boston Scientific Close the Gap program, which aims to help all patients understand their medical condition and different therapies available to help them live better lives. This includes broadening clinical trial participation. More information can be found at knowyourhealth.com.

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