April is National Minority Health Month. It’s a time to remember that health outcomes can be different among people of diverse ethnic and racial groups. These differences in health status are called health disparities.
Health disparities exist for many diseases, including HIV/AIDS, hepatitis, diabetes, cancer, and heart disease. Racial and ethnic minorities may be more likely to have these diseases or may be more likely to have serious effects from them.
The mission of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is to protect and promote the public health, including learning more about how to reduce these differences in health outcomes. The FDA’s Office of Minority Health works to support these important goals—and to strengthen how the FDA responds to minority health concerns.
“This year, we’re focusing our efforts on education around HIV/AIDS and hepatitis,” notes Jonca Bull, M.D., the FDA’s assistant commissioner for minority health. “We’re working with our stakeholders—including government agencies like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the National Institutes of Health, along with academia and patient and industry groups—to spread the word about testing and treatment options. We know early detection and treatment can save lives.”
About Hepatitis and HIV
Hepatitis literally means “inflammation of the liver.” It is most often caused by one of several viruses. In the United States, the most common types of viral hepatitis are Hepatitis A, Hepatitis B, and Hepatitis C.
HIV stands for “human immunodeficiency virus.” It weakens a person’s immune system by destroying important cells that fight disease and infection and can eventually lead to the disease called AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome).
Both HIV and hepatitis can be passed on through sexual contact and through sharing needles. HIV and certain types of hepatitis also can be passed from mother to child during a period before and after birth (called perinatal transmission).
You can learn more about HIV and viral hepatitis from the CDC. For instance, according to the CDC, to reduce your risk of getting these infections, you can make sure to never share needles and to practice abstinence (that is, not engage in sexual activity)—or if you choose to have sex, you can limit your number of sexual partners and correctly use a barrier method like condoms every time you engage in sexual activity.
About FDA-Approved or Cleared Tests and Treatments—Know Your Status
The FDA’s Office of Minority Health reminds you to know your status and receive treatment if needed.
The only way to know if you have these viruses is to be tested.
Testing and treatment are especially important for these diseases. That’s because not knowing your status can contribute to other related risks. People who do not know they have these viruses cannot take advantage of medical care and treatment—and may even pass viruses to others without realizing it.
The FDA regulates medical devices to help ensure they are safe and effective. They include blood tests for HIV and hepatitis, as well as tests that use saliva to check for HIV. (Some tests are available for home use.)
The FDA regulates vaccines for the prevention of hepatitis A and B to make sure they are safe and effective. (At this time, there are no FDA approved vaccines for the prevention of other types of hepatitis, or HIV/AIDS.)
In addition, the FDA regulates prescription drug treatments for these diseases.
If you don’t know your status, get tested using an FDA-approved or cleared test. And if you know your status, and need treatment, remember to read all labeled directions for FDA-approved medical products and to talk to your health care provider if you have any questions.