HHS Web sites focus on minority health, cancer

The Department of Health and Human Services this summer launched two intriguing World Wide Web sites.Most recently, HHS launched a new Web site to make information available about its Initiative to Eliminate Racial and Ethnic Disparities in Health, a new program President Clinton unveiled earlier this year that is designed to eliminate by 2010 racial and ethnic health disparities in six areas: infant mortality, cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, HIV infection and child and adult immunizations.

To take a peek at this well-organized, data-packed site, point your browser to www.raceandhealth.hhs.gov. On the first page, links to the six health care disparity areas are available. For example, the Infant Mortality section details how this vital measure of a nation's health is skewed in the United States when categorized by ethnic group. The United States ranks 24th in infant mortality compared with other industrialized nations, but the rates among blacks, Native Americans, Alaskan natives and Hispanics in 1995 and 1996 were above the national average in the United States.

In addition, the HIV Infection section details that while racial and ethnic minorities constitute about 25 percent of the total population in the United States, these groups account for almost 54 percent of all AIDS cases.

Another interesting feature of this site is the Related Web Sites section, which offers a wide array of Internet resources to flesh out some of the topics. For example, a site for the Office of Minority Health Resource Center links to a monthly newsletter that provides continuing coverage of issues related to minority health. Another linked site, Ethno Med, provides a comprehensive database of information on culture, language, health and medicine designed for recent immigrants or refugee groups.

The National Cancer Institute recently posted a new Web site called the Cancer Trials page at www.cancertrials.nci.nih.gov. The site provides the latest information on trials and studies that evaluate the effectiveness of new cancer drugs and treatments. Check out this Web site, which is one of an increasing number of sites from reliable sources of health information designed to empower patients with information on many diseases.

Although deceptively simple in design, this page provides a profound service to cancer patients by providing the very latest information on clinical trials either under way or just beginning.

The best place to start for novices looking for information on clinical trials is the Understanding Clinical Trials section, which explains in plain English what trials are and how they work. Logically, the next section provides detailed guidance on how cancer patients and those who may be at high risk of developing cancer should decide whether to participate in trials.

For example, the site urges patients to carefully consider the potential benefits and risks to participating in trials. Potential benefits, according to the guide, may include receiving health care provided by leading physicians in the field of cancer research and having access to new drugs and interventions before they become widely available. On the other hand, potential risks to patients include side effects not anticipated or known by doctors and the refusal of insurance companies to cover the costs.

Finally, the site offers hints on finding specific trials and has access to the National Cancer Institute's database of clinical trials. For users who expect to return often, the site also offers a section that provides the latest advances in cancer care and research. Repeat visitors may want to sign up to be automatically notified when the site adds new data about a specific type of cancer or a specific treatment.

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