By IGT Scientific, Academic & Medical Advisory Council Chair Donna M. Christensen
April is National Minority Health Month, an important opportunity for us in the healthcare space to recognize the gaps that exist in access and treatment for people of color and work together to remove barriers. Recent years have shed light on the disparities that exist in many communities, and while great effort has been made to address these inequities, there is a long way to go.
I have devoted much of my career to addressing these issues, primarily helping to end health disparities for minority communities and women, fighting HIV/AIDS in the U.S. and globally, and extending health insurance coverage to underserved communities. As Chair of the Institute for Gene Therapies’ Scientific, Academic and Medical Advisory Council, I understand the incredible potential that gene therapies have to serve patients with unmet medical needs.
As we readjust to a post-pandemic life, we must re-focus on how we screen for disease, how we research treatments, and how we make those treatments accessible for all who need them. For example, IGT is working to improve access to newborn screening to help address delays in early diagnoses, which disproportionately affect people of color. We are also engaged across stakeholders groups to help ensure our healthcare payment system is modernized so that gene therapies, and other advanced treatments, are not out of reach for patients who need them. Today, we are concerned about efforts, particularly by certain state Medicaid programs, to restrict access to some of the most advanced treatments for patients who have no other options. These policies risk exacerbating already inequitable access to care for racial and ethnic minority patient communities.
The irony is that we continue to see exciting breakthroughs in the genetics space. Breakthroughs that, in the years to come, could help advance care for everyone. Earlier this month, the Human Genome Project announced that it sequenced the complete human genome for the first time in history. The new research introduces 400 million letters to the previously 92% sequenced human which equates to an entire chromosome. The completely sequenced genome will allow scientists to analyze how DNA differs between people and how those variations may play a role in disease, laying the groundwork for even further advances in treatments and cures.
This step forward is an important reminder about the possibilities ahead of us for addressing the inequities that exist in communities of color and underserved communities.
IGT is proud to partner with leaders in innovation who are making great strides in solving some of our most vexing medical challenges. We encourage you to advocate for equity in this and every other area of healthcare, to help us raise awareness of gene therapies’ potential and spread the word throughout National Minority Health Month.
The Honorable Donna M. Christensen is the Chair of the IGT Scientific, Academic and Medical Council. Donna retired from the U S House of Representatives in 2015 where she served nine terms (18 years). She is the first female physician to serve as a Member in the history of the U.S Congress. In the 111th, 112th and 113th Congress, Donna served on the Committee on Energy and Commerce. Among other subcommittee assignments, she served on its Subcommittee on Health during healthcare reform. She also served on Committee on Homeland Security, the Committee on Natural Resources, and the Committee on Small Business. Donna chaired the Congressional Black Caucus’ Health Braintrust for 16 years. She practiced family medicine and served in several public health administrative positions prior to her election to Congress in 1996. She recently established the Christensen Institute for Community Health and Empowerment. Donna is the recipient of several honorary degrees and awards. She sits on several other boards and serves as a public health advisor.