New state health officer aims to improve health outcomes


Dr. Daniel Edney, a long-time Vicksburg physician, Meridian native and Mississippi's new state health officer, is focused on improving the state's health outcomes by improving health equity.

In a press conference via Zoom on Thursday, Edney, who took over the Mississippi Department of Health’s top spot on Monday, said he wants to be a “catalyst for change.”

“I refuse to accept that we have to last in every health indicator,” he said.

Mississippi, Edney said, is often ranked number one for negative heath indicators and dead last in positive ones. The state is listed at or near the bottom in obesity, hypertension, diabetes and more, he said. However, he said, the worst indicator was that the state ranks highest in infant and maternal mortality.

“All of us are dying at a rate higher that the rest of the nation, but the most egregious example is that our black mothers and babies die at a rate three times more than the rest of the nation,” he said.

But it doesn’t have to be that way, Edney said. Mississippi was once considered the worst state in education, but communities, schools, faith leaders and more put in the work to change that.

“If we did it in education, we can do it with health as well,” he said.

During the early days of the Covid-19 pandemic, Edney said MSDH recognized that African American communities in Mississippi were being disproportionately affected. To address the disparity, the department worked with community leaders to develop solutions.  

Those partnerships paid off, Edney said, with Mississippi having one of the highest rates of vaccination among its African American population.

Under his tenure, Edney said MSDH will work to build that success across every program it offers.

“We have to be willing to go into the communities and listen and learn to work together,” he said.

Edney said he also wants to put policy in place to address implicit biases in both the health department’s programs and its people. Implicit biases, he said, are natural, but they must be addressed to ensure MSDH programs are meeting the needs of the communities they serve.

Tackling Mississippi’s negative health outcomes and ensuring health equity is going to take everyone, Edney said. It will require buy-in from political leaders, faith-based organizations, community groups, non-profits, schools and more, he said, but in the end it will mean Mississippians live longer, fuller lives than they did before.

“As a Mississippian, as a physician and as the state health officer, this is the future that I have to push for,” he said.

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