Minority institutions gather in Hawai‘i to work for improved health care

RCMI Symposium in Waikiki

University of Hawaiʻi
Tina Shelton, 692-0897
Communications Director/Jabsom
Posted: Dec 4, 2008

The U.S. government program fighting for equal health care for minorities in America convened a meeting in the state where the nation‘s first minority President-Elect was born. The 11th Research Centers in Minority Institutions (RCMI) Symposium got underway December 1, 2008 at the Sheraton-Waikiki Hotel.

The decision to meet in Barack Obama‘s hometown was actually made years ago, when the RCMI held its first Hawaiʻi symposium in 2002.

"Six years ago, we were visionary to have this conference in Hawaiʻi," said Sydney A. McNairy, Jr., the Associate Director for Research Infrastructure in the National Center for Research Resources (NCRR) within the National Institutes of Health (NIH). "Little did we know this time we would be coming back to the place to where President-Elect was born and raised and to the community who embraced him."

Hundreds of scientists and medical doctors from eighteen different U.S. academic institutions are attending the conference. Each of them, like the University of Hawaiʻi‘s John A. Burns School of Medicine (JABSOM), has grants from the NIH to encourage the reduction of ethnic and racial disparities in health through clinical science and research as well as cultural understanding and community empowerment.

"We are here to be the spokespersons for a community that has not long participated in the research agenda of this nation," McNairy said.

In welcoming remarks, JABSOM Dean Jerris Hedges said, "This meeting is about opportunity-- opportunity that exists to address health disparities on a global scale. With a new president there is a new perspective on where this country can go," he said

Hedges encouraged the attendees to think hard about the opportunities ahead. "Collectively, we can change the world," Hedges told them.McNairy was heralded as the "muscle and brain behind the RCMI Programs," by Program Chair Dr. Richard Yanagihara, also of JABSOM. "All of our institutions have benefitted from (McNairy‘s) devotion and passion," said Yanagihara.McNairy said it is his goal for RCMI to engage every American in the effort to achieve health equality.

"A healthy people are one of the most critical parts of a secure nation," McNairy said. "The real goal has to be not the elimination of health disparities but the full participation of each and every one of our citizens and the health success of this nation."

Also speaking at the RCMI opening sessions were Dr. Gary Ostrander, UH Mānoa vice chancellor for research and graduate education, and a principal investigator for the University of Hawaiʻi‘s RCMI Program.

Dr. Lauren Wood, staff clinician in the Vaccine Branch at the National Cancer Institute of the NIH, gave a lecture on the volatile twists and turns in both research and in government funding in the fight against HIV/AIDS.

Wood said one of the most dramatic successes has come in reducing mother-to-child transmission of HIV/AIDS."In many countries now the rate of transmission is 1%-2% or less," Wood said. "AIDS is now a rare disease in children across the U.S., with less than 5 percent of children born last year with HIV."

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