HOBART | Collaboration is key in overcoming health disparities and strengthening public health in communities, according to one downstate medical leader.
Dr. Virginia Caine, director of the Marion County Public Health Department and associate professor of medicine at Indiana University School of Medicine Infectious Disease Division, spoke Thursday at the One Region and NWI Health Disparities Initiative luncheon.
The Region is doing a "fantastic job" of bringing together public and private groups to address public health care issues, Caine said.
She discussed a host of statistics that demonstrate the need for preventive care through public health.
"Prevention is just so key," she said.
In Indiana, 21.2 percent of residents smoke, 25.2 percent of children live in poverty and 30.2 percent are obese.
Indiana has high levels of air pollution and a high rate of cancer deaths. Yet, the state ranks 48th in the nation in public health funding per person, at $42 per person, Caine said.
Local leaders need to gather data and have it analyzed to find ways to improve those statistics.
Dennis Rittenmeyer, executive director of One Region, said the 2012 Quality of Life Indicators Report, which will be released Tuesday, identifies a lack of quality data regarding local health issues.
"We don't have enough data, and the data we have is outdated," Rittenmeyer said.
Demographics are changing, and health disparities persist, Caine said.
In Indiana, 37 percent of blacks are obese, compared with 28.8 percent of whites and 28.4 percent of Hispanics.
Data from 2007 show that, in Lake County, the infant mortality rate for whites is 8 deaths per 1,000 births, and for blacks, it is 14 deaths per 1,000 births, she said.
Americans are living 30 years longer than they did in 1900, and 25 of those years are through the efforts of public health systems, Caine said.
She also said communities need to be better prepared for the threat of pandemic. They need to have a rapid, collaborative response to emerging infectious diseases.
"At some point, we'll have a major pandemic," she said.
An illness, such as the flu, could kill millions of people, she said.