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Recognition for the contributions of black scientists, doctors

2/21/2014, 8:24 a.m.

The “countless contributions” of African-American scientists, doctors and public health experts are being recognized by Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius in February as the nation celebrates Black History Month.

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Rebecca Lee Crumpler

Sebelius, who noted the persistent racial and ethnic health disparities in the United States, said America can draw inspiration from the courage of trailblazers like Dr. Rebecca Lee Crumpler, the first African-American woman in U.S. history to receive a M.D. degree.

“In the face of seemingly insurmountable odds, Crumpler overcame the deeply entrenched discrimination of her time and in 1864 graduated from New England Medical College,” she said in a Feb. 3 statement.

Crumpler, who was born in 1831, graduated from New England Female Medical College and became the first black female doctor in the United States and a key role model for future minority female physicians entering the field. Her book, “Medical Discourses,” published in 1883, detailed her medical advice and experiences treating disease. It was one of the first medical publications by an African-American. Crumpler died in 1895.

The nation also honors the legacy of innovators like Dr. George Washington Carver, who earned global recognition in the early 20th century for his groundbreaking research in the fields of agriculture and nutrition, Sebelius said.

“A brilliant scientist, Dr. Carver used his skills to help the most vulnerable in society, educating poor farmers on ways to cultivate alternative crops that would yield more abundant and nutritious harvests.”

Carver (circa 1864-1943), who was invited by Booker T. Washington to lead the Agriculture Department at the Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Institute (later Tuskegee University), established an agriculture extension in Alabama and founded an industrial research lab where he worked tirelessly on the development of hundreds of applications for new plants. He discovered more than 300 uses for peanuts and hundreds more uses for soybeans, pecans and sweet potatoes.

This year commemorates the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, offering a time for reflection on how far America has come and on how much work remains, Sebelius said.

The act was a critical turning point in the fight against racial segregation and discrimination, she added.

“This administration has made reducing the longstanding disparities in health care in the African-American community a top priority. African-Americans suffer from higher rates of a range of illnesses as compared to the general population, yet are 55 percent more likely to be uninsured than white Americans,” Sebelius said.

The Affordable Care Act is expanding access to affordable health coverage, a critical step toward improving the health of communities of color, she said.

“Through the Health Insurance Marketplace, 6.8 million uninsured African-Americans have new options for affordable health coverage that covers a range of benefits, including important preventive services with no out-of-pocket cost.”

A recent HHS study said that six out of 10 uninsured African-Americans are currently eligible for Medicaid, the Children’s Health Program or financial assistance to purchase private coverage through the Health Insurance Marketplace. If all states took advantage of new opportunities to expand Medicaid coverage under the law, 95 percent of uninsured African-Americans would be eligible for Medicaid, CHIP or financial assistance to buy Marketplace coverage. For more information, visit HealthCare.gov.