COVID-19 adds urgency to conference on health disparities in Mississippi

Published: Aug. 4, 2021 at 5:26 PM CDT
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BILOXI, Miss. (WLOX) - The first Mississippi Health Disparities Conference at the Mississippi Coast Coliseum and Convention Center may have been in the middle of a new COVID resurgence, but organizers look at the pandemic as an opportunity.

“We’d like to set the example that the proper measures, like we’re doing with the masks and hand sanitizers, we can go back to business and carry on a lot of productive work and we don’t need to be shut down,” said Dr. Mohamed Elasri, Mississippi INBRE director.

The conference was sponsored by the Mississippi Idea Network of Biomedical Research Excellence based at the University of Southern Mississippi. The conference drew about 250 participants.

The focus: To find ways to better provide health care and disease prevention services to underserved communities that face chronic conditions like heart disease and diabetes.

“We’re here to create the knowledge, to develop knowledge, to disseminate it, allow researchers to help each other so we can move forward a lot faster,” Elasri said.

And COVID has become a teaching moment.

“The COVID pandemic has just exemplified the vulnerabilities that our populations are experiencing,” said Dr. Jennifer Lemacks, INBRE Telenutrition Center director. “It’s largely related to these health disparities that we have addressing for years.”

And the more underlying conditions, the more vulnerable to COVID. That’s why the conference also featured vaccinations through My Brother’s Keeper’s Open Arms Healthcare Center.

For this group, collaboration is key.

“Well, yeah, there are more people in our corner and we hope to get even more people in our corner to help combat health disparities and COVID-19,” said Joseph Lindsey with My Brother’s Keeper.

Deja Abdul-Haqq added “I’ll tell you everybody that pulled up today to get that shot is a new person in that corner. Because it’s not just vaccinating yourself. We’re creating a healthier Coastal Mississippi, Central Mississippi. Every shot takes us closer to being COVID Free.”

About 280 people signed up for the vaccine, which exceeded expectations.

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