Unpacking the forces that drive health disparities
Look to almost any major disease and you’ll find disparities in how it affects different groups. African Americans and Hispanics have higher rates of HIV/AIDS infection than white Americans. Women, particularly African-American women, have lower survival rates following a heart attack than men. And many cancers are diagnosed at later stages in African Americans than in whites, leading to poorer outcomes.
While these differences are sometimes attributed to variations in biology between groups, the reality is more complicated. On Wednesday, Nov. 29, from 4 to 5:30 p.m. in the Jordan Medical Education Center Law Auditorium, three Penn Integrates Knowledge (PIK) Professors, Karen Glanz, Dorothy Roberts, and Sarah Tishkoff, will participate in a panel discussion—moderated by a fourth PIK Professor, Ezekiel Emanuel—to sift through the biological, social, and even legal and regulatory forces that may either be supporting or working to dismantle these disparities. Provost Wendell Pritchett will offer introductory remarks, and each of the three speakers will give a brief talk before the panel is opened up for audience interaction.
“I think this event will be of interest to anybody who uses health care, who is a health care provider or might be one someday, anyone in public policy or who is affected by public policy,” Glanz says. “Really, this is aimed at a very general audience as these issues affect everyone.”
The discussion, “Health Disparities: Integrating Knowledge from Genomics, Social Sciences and the Law,” will be the second annual PIK Seminar organized and sponsored by the PIK Professors, a group of 22 faculty members whose expertise crosses disciplines and who have appointments in multiple schools at the University. Last year’s PIK Seminar, “PIK-ing on the Brain,” dealt with the subject of neuroscience and featured PIK Professors whose areas of focus ranged from mathematics, to ethics, to epigenetics, to brain science.
Glanz, a public health scholar with appointments in the School of Nursing and the Perelman School of Medicine, whose efforts to identify and reduce health disparities has informed policy and organizational change, sees natural areas of overlap between her own work and that of her co-panelists Roberts and Tishkoff.
Roberts, who has appointments in the Department of Sociology in the School of Arts & Sciences (SAS) and Penn Law School, has worked to illuminate ways in which the perception of race as having a biological basis has led to poorer care for minority groups and a failure to account for the social factors that lead to health disparities. Genomics studies of African populations led by Tishkoff, a geneticist with appointments in the Perelman School of Medicine and the Department of Biology at SAS, have further underscored the fallacy of a biological notion of race, highlighting the immense diversity present within one so-called racial group.
Glanz is hopeful that the dialogue that emerges will be fruitful and multi-dimensional, true to the philosophy of the Penn Integrates Knowledge professorships.
“There is a richness that emerges from looking at major public policy and social issues through the lens of multiple disciplines,” she says.
Register for the seminar here.