Throughout the current pandemic it has become clear that racial and ethnic minority groups have been disproportionately impacted by COVID-19. But as information and vaccination campaigns have rolled out nationwide, efforts to advance health equity have been hindered by inconsistency and under-reporting of data on minority groups and other at-risk populations.
To address the gaps, the CDC Foundation and the Satcher Health Leadership Institute at Morehouse School of Medicine created a Health Equity Task Force to monitor and assess the impact of COVID-19 on vulnerable populations. Comprised of policy makers, academics, influencers and leaders in the field of health equity, the task force helped to inform efforts by the institute to consolidate and refine widespread health data into a single, user-friendly platform.
“Their purpose was to make sure that we were presenting ourselves in an equitable manner and representing all groups as inclusively as possible,” said Mahia Valle, senior communications specialist for the Satcher Health Leadership Institute. “We wanted to make sure that every group was spoken for.”
With input from the task force, the Satcher Health Leadership Institute designed the Health Equity Tracker, a website of summary data to shed light on select geographic, racial and socio-economic disparities, and social determinants of health at the individual, county, state and national levels. Comprised of data drawn from a wide variety of publicly available sources, the tracker both consolidates disparate health data on COVID-19 and allows users to access that data on a much more granular level.
“Fundamentally it’s about supporting data-driven decision making to advance health equity,” said Juan Carlos Gonzalez, product manager at the Satcher Health Leadership Institute. “We want to take this complex data that exists all over the internet, bring them into a single platform and make them approachable to a large audience.”
While professional researchers and academics have access to more sophisticated breakdowns of health data, that data is often less accessible for community-level health equity decision makers, says Lauren Smith, MD, MPH, chief health equity and strategy officer for the CDC Foundation. Though much public data exists on health equity, that data is difficult to act upon until it is consolidated and synthesized—the main function of the Health Equity Tracker.
“Data collection from national sites may not necessarily be reported back to an individual community, and the community may not know where that data resides,” Smith said. “A tracker like this bridges that gap, so that the data that’s coming from a community can be used by that community.
As the Satcher Health Leadership Institute looks to grow the scale and influence of the tracker, they continue to work closely with the Health Equity Task Force. Going forward, says Gonzalez, they hope to build out more robust analytics on exactly how the tracker is being used and provide further opportunities for feedback from users to help fill in data gaps that exist. And while measuring the impact of data can be challenging, the Satcher Health Leadership Institute has a clear objective in mind.
“The answer on whether the tracker is effective will be determined when we see changes in policies, programs and practices to advance health equity,” Gonzalez said. “That is the overall mission.”
As the project continues to grow, with additional support being made available from other organizations to help collect and analyze data, Mahia says it was the initial support and collaboration from the CDC Foundation that started them on the path to success.
“The CDC Foundation was our first partner and sponsor in taking this big step,” Mahia said. “I don’t think we would be where we are now without the CDC Foundation’s support.”
This project was supported by individual and organizational donors to the CDC Foundation’s COVID-19 Emergency Response Fund.
Juan Carlos Gonzalez, product manager at the Satcher Health Leadership Institute