During National Public Health Week, Department Renews Commitment to Increase Access to Healthcare, Promote Health Literacy, Combat Health Misinformation, and Help Communities Nurture and Support Health for All

ALBANY, N.Y. (April 7, 2022) – In honor of World Health Day and National Public Health Week, the New York State Department of Health recognizes health and access to healthcare as a fundamental human right. This includes ensuring all New Yorkers have accessible, quality healthcare and healthy environments in which to live, work, and learn. To address long-standing health inequities magnified by COVID-19,the Department renews its commitment to increasing access to health-based care, promoting health literacy, combating misinformation, and strengthening communities to support health for all New Yorkers.

“The link between health and human rights remains as important today as it was over 50 years ago when virtually all nations became signatory to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights,” New York State Health Commissioner Dr. Mary T. Bassett said. “Many of today’s differences in health outcomes can be traced back to past injustices, whether it is the displacement of indigenous peoples, the enslavement of people of African descent or exploitation based on national origin. Health is a fundamental human right for all, a truth that we should pursue in both words and actions.”

Sponsored by the World Health Organization (WHO), and celebrated by the Department and public health organizations worldwide each year on April 7, World Health Day brings global attention to the urgent need to ensure clean air, water, and food are available to everyone. The WHO estimates that more than 13 million deaths across the globe each year are due to avoidable environmental causes. Worldwide, over 90 percent of people breathe unhealthy air. And one in three people globally do not have access to safe drinking water.

There are many examples of structural racism that have led to generations of race-based health inequities. This includes redlining, residential segregation, a criminal justice system that often disadvantages people of color, environmental inequality, and unequal access to quality medical care. Further, these structures have enabled the many pathways between racism and health, including economic injustice and social deprivation, political exclusion, targeted marketing of health-harming substances​ and inadequate healthcare, along with the lack of language assistance services, which contributes to the inability to access available health services.

Increasing Access to Healthcare

Acknowledging health as a human right begins with equitable access to the conditions that support health, including access to healthcare. Actions, such as extending the State’s health plan through the pandemic and expanding access to those health plans will help more New Yorkers have what Governor Hochul called “the dignity of quality healthcare.” Since the passage of the Affordable Care Act in 2010, New York State has cut the number of uninsured New Yorkers in half across every racial and ethnic group.

Building and Promoting Health Literacy

Improving health literacy is essential to improving health equity and outcomes. Defined as the capacity to obtain and ability to understand and use health information in order to make appropriate health decisions, health literacy empowers people to make healthy choices and take charge of their own health. The Department’s efforts to improve access to necessary health information includes providing expansive multi-language services and materialsas listedin the State’s Executive Order 26.1 via telephonic, in-person, and written and digital materials. Language assistance services support many programs directly by providing training on the utilization of services (for both spoken and ASL communities) to best serve linguistically diverse New Yorkers in a confidential manner.

Additionally, the Department’s Vaccine Confidence Workgroup provides informational materials in ten languages for broad distribution across community and healthcare settings. These materials aid providers in incorporating respectful language and strategies into health outreach and services in ways that resonate with patients with unique cultural needs. This education also helps identify staff with the appropriate expertise and knowledge in local health departments and pharmacies to meet the needs of all communities. Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, the Department has maintained multi-language access and services to guarantee information about the virus, the vaccine, testing/treatment, the State’s Excelsior Pass, frequently asked questions and materials, and scheduling for vaccine and booster appointments to all New Yorkers.

Overthe month of April, the Department will continue to host or participate in events featuring community-based organizations. Already, over ten events have have reached more than 5,000 New Yorkers. These forums are designed to meet communities where they are leveraging messengers they trust, providing information about COVID-19, including vaccines, in culturally appropriate ways that address community concerns. This work expands opportunities to provide factual information to drive positive health behaviors, making equity the cornerstone of our efforts to provide health information through the vaccination effort.

Combatting Health Misinformation

Health misinformation is on the rise around the world, affecting health literacy and access to critical health information. In 2021, the U.S. Surgeon General issued an urgent Health Advisory stating that “limiting the spread of health misinformation is a moral and civic imperative that will require a whole-of-society effort.” To combat misinformation and provide access to accurate information the Department launched the #GetTheVaxFacts campaign to help New Yorkers learn how to identify trustworthy sources of accurate information about the COVID-19 vaccines. The website and campaign encouraged New Yorkers to take active steps to promote good health information hygiene through community resources. The annual PrEP Aware Week campaign through the Department’s AIDS Institute is another example of efforts to combat misinformation, in this case,surrounding Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP) among those at-risk for HIV.

Nurturing and Supporting Health for All

Many of New York’s communities, in particular Black and Brown communities, lack access to quality education, economic opportunities, healthy environments, and healthcare. These social determinants have led to health disparities that are socially and politically constructed. Governor Hochul’s signing of legislation declaring racism a public health crisis enables the Department and all New York State public officials to take new and increased action to identify and address inequities, empowering the Department to build on its vision to make a healthier, more just New York State.

To learn more about the World Health Organization’s World Health Day, visit the link here.

To learn more about the many community-based public health programs offered by the State Department of Health, visit the page here.

To learn more about the Department’s Minority Health Council, visit the page here.

To learn more about National Public Health Week click here.