Date September 30, 2020
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Virtual event series to examine causes, consequences of health disparities in U.S.

In “Decoding Disparities,” presented by Brown’s Warren Alpert Medical School and School of Public Health, experts will discuss adverse impacts on the health of Black and Indigenous individuals and people of color in America.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. [Brown University] — As the United States continues to confront the impacts of racism and simultaneously grapples with a pandemic that disproportionately affects communities of color, an open-to-the-public lineup of virtual events presented by Brown University’s Warren Alpert Medical School and School of Public Health will explore pressing issues related to health inequality.

The series, titled “Decoding Disparities,” will examine how the effects of systemic racism, climate change and social determinants of health have disproportionally and adversely impacted the health of Black and Indigenous individuals and people of color in America.

“The lectures in the ‘Decoding Disparities’ series tackle issues of national importance and feature experts in the field from both within and outside of Brown,” said Dr. Jack A. Elias, senior vice president for health affairs and dean of medicine and biological sciences at Brown.

Disparities in health are complex and longstanding, said Dr. Ashish K. Jha, dean of the School of Public Health, and the series is designed to bring together scholars and students to discuss steps toward a more equitable and just health care system.

“We need a multi-disciplinary approach that harnesses the best that science and evidence have to offer to tackle these challenges,” Jha said. “It's our duty as health professionals and public health professionals to find ways to engage with communities of color and work with them to drive improvements in health and close gaps in health outcomes.”

The series will kick off on Monday, Oct. 5, when Dr. John Balmes will discuss the ways in which climate change is increasing health disparities. A professor of environmental science at the University of California, San Francisco, Balmes studies the respiratory, cardiovascular and metabolic health effects of air pollution. Balmes, who is a member of the California Air Resources Board, is cited widely on the impact that the wildfires in western states are having on respiratory illnesses.

Later in October, Dr. Otis Brawley, former medical director of the American Cancer Society, will explore disparities in cancer prevention and care. Brawley, a professor at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, leads an interdisciplinary research effort working to close racial, economic and social disparities in the prevention, detection and treatment of cancer in the U.S. and across the globe.

The series keynote will be the Paul Levinger Professorship Pro Tem in the Economics of Health Care lecture, presented on Monday, Nov. 30, by Dr. David R. Williams. A professor and chair of the Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, he will discuss understanding and effectively addressing inequities in health.

Other events in the series, which will stream live on Mondays at 4 p.m., will focus on topics including child health, the effects of urbanization on health disparities, and biological mechanisms of risk for health disparities.

The series is supported by the Paul Levinger Professorship Pro Tem in the Economics of Health Care. This lecture was established in 1987 to honor the memory of Paul Levinger by a gift from his wife, Ruth N. Levinger, on behalf of the Levinger family. The Levingers’ daughter and son-in-law, Bette Levinger Cohen and Dr. John M. Cohen were instrumental in Ruth Levinger’s decision to make this gift.

“This is a tremendous learning opportunity for our students and faculty,” Elias said. “I am grateful to the Levinger and Cohen families for making this stellar lineup of speakers possible.”

To register for the events, all of which are free and open to the public with advance registration, visit the “Decoding Disparities” website at