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Jane E. Henney, M.D. - National Alliance for Hispanic Health

This text contains Dr. Henney's prepared remarks. It should be used with the understanding that some material may have been added or deleted during actual delivery.

Remarks by:
Jane E. Henney, M.D.
Commissioner of Food and Drugs
U.S. Food and Drug Administration

National Alliance for Hispanic Health Organizations
13th Biennial National Conference on Hispanic Health and Human Services

San Diego, CA
April 27, 2000

Good morning. It's an honor to be here to open this 13th Biennial National Conference. I thank the Alliance and the conference organizers for their continued support of the Food and Drug Administration, and your kind invitation to join you today. I'm particularly glad to be here because it gives me the opportunity to congratulate the Alliance, and the many health care organizations represented here today, on the tremendous strides you've made in improving the health and welfare of all Hispanics in this country.

I'd also like to thank Dr. Jane Delgado, for her long-standing support of not only the agency, but of me personally. I had the privilege of working with Jane when she was a member of DHHS in the 1980's. I saw first hand the level of commitment and energy she brings to the task, her love and loyalty to her Hispanic heritage, and her rich and wonderful sense of humor. And for the past 14 years she's brought these attributes and skills to COSSMO--now the Alliance. I don't need to tell you of the respect she has by both the legislative and executive branches of government--for she is one who can be counted on for her candor, and her conviction. The Alliance is fortunate to have such a leader.

Jane has written a wonderful health care guide called "(Salud!-A Latinas' Guide to Total Health-Body, Mind and Spirit." There's a wealth of health care information in this book for Hispanic women. If you haven't read it-I recommend that you put it on your list.

And I must say that I was delighted that Jane included me in her list of "Latinas who influenced this book." While I can only claim to be an honorary Latina-that is something very special in itself. It's my secret which anecdotes in the book are either about me or are mine.

In government we often like to speak and sometimes even boast about "outreach" activities. The problem as I see it is that this too often means telling the public about policies and goals, and what we feel people need or should hear about us or what we believe they should do...a one-way street to say the least. I believe our activities with communities will only be effective if, rather than one-way streets, we have bridges that permit us to hear the needs and expectations that communities have for us. Learning never comes at the time one is speaking, but only when one is listening--and thus, if we are to be effective, we need to hear from you about your experiences with the agency. We need to hear what you think we're doing right, and what we could be doing better. I commit to you that we'll make every effort to use what we hear over the next few days and beyond to help shape our policies.

It's been our good fortune to enjoy a strong relationship with the Alliance. By working together--listening and learning--we have had a beneficial impact on the health of Hispanics throughout the United States. It will be by continued work together that we'll be able to make a difference in specific diseases with a high incidence among Hispanics-such as diabetes and hypertension, cervical and breast cancer, and depression.

Some consumer issues are particularly vital to the community's health and well-being--for example, dietary supplement use, food-handling safety and the proper use of medicines, particularly among the elderly.

In all of your endeavors, you've made sure we understand and appreciate the broad spectrum of peoples--and cultures--that comprise the "Hispanic community." The tremendous diversity that characterizes the Hispanic/Latino population--diversity in national origin and cultural heritage, economic status, geographical distribution, and of course, language. Understanding these things makes us better able to reach people, and greatly improves our odds of being effective. We pledge to respect and honor the important differences between these groups, from health care practices...to the subtleties of language.

It is only by doing this that we will be "culturally competent" as well as scientifically sound. And that's critical as we consider the impact of our decisions on special populations. For example, we need to consider possible differences in the way a population may respond to a drug treatment, and be alert to side effects that may occur more frequently in some populations.

We also need this kind of cultural competency in our consumer education programs-where it's so important to understand differences in language, attitudes and beliefs. Certainly we have made progress in this area, but we'll continue to rely on you to maximize our effectiveness.

I'm looking forward to this afternoon's roundtable discussion. We plan to address many FDA issues that impact the Hispanic community. And we want to talk--and listen--to ways we can increase your involvement in our policy development processes, risk management, reducing the incidence of medical errors, the sale of prescription drugs over the Internet, and recruiting and retaining Hispanic scientists and administrators in the FDA. I should also note that some of our public affairs specialists from the Southwest and Pacific Regions will be speaking about initiatives that are already taking place that may be appropriate to duplicate elsewhere. I'd like to close my remarks this morning with a quote from Margaret Mead. "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can charge the world. Indeed, it's the only thing that ever has."