Hologic has launched Project Health Equality, an initiative that targets structural barriers that lead to health disparities among Black and Hispanic women. The $20 million, multi-year project includes partnerships with the Black Women’s Health Imperative and the National Alliance for Hispanic Health.

Given Hologic’s focus on women’s health, the investment in the initiative aligns neatly with the company’s broader mission, according to VP of women’s health Meg Eckenroad.

“It’s our purpose, our passion and our promise to make sure that women – all women – are leading healthier lives,” Eckenroad said. “The reason we are doing this is because we know there is a need and we are committed to making a difference.”

Project Health Equality is focused on improving access to care – among other ways, by bringing mammography machines, Pap testing and patient navigators to nine regions in the U.S. – as well as increasing awareness about existing disparities. But the initiative also contains a research component, which distinguishes it from other awareness efforts. The first wave of research will examine the experience of Black women and women of color in screening, diagnosis and treatment, all with the goal of helping guide practice and access.

Through a partnership with nonprofit RAD-AID, the research component will also survey providers, staff at clinics and imaging centers, and women themselves. The plan is to look at the data to better understand what would make women’s healthcare experiences better – what would make them more likely to come back for a mammogram,for instance, or what would ease their diagnostic journey. The organizations will also seek to identify gaps in care by chronicling the experiences of providers and staff.

“This research starts with what women want,” explained Linda Goler Blount, president and CEO of Black Women’s Health Imperative. “We are certain that women of color and providers will not see issues exactly the same. We want to develop strategies to help providers understand what women need, and make changes in systems of care delivery that actually lead to better outcomes.”

That may include assessing the location of imaging or diagnostic centers as well as broader systemic and policy changes.

“The assumption is that, if we provide the kind of care they say they want and need, then outcomes will improve,” Blount said. “We know this is true – we’ve seen this happen in other instances. So this research will be the first time we start with what women want, and use that to make important decisions about screening care, early detection and even therapeutic care.”

Black women are twice as likely to die of cervical cancer and 40% more likely to die from breast cancer than white women. It’s these types of drastic disparities that Blount hopes to eradicate.

By way of example, Blount noted that white providers don’t recommend aggressive breast cancer treatment for Black patients at the same rate they do for white patients.

“We know that Black women get breast cancer on average five to seven years younger than white women, so we hope to see screening take place among Black women in their earlier 40s, where the cancers are more easily treated,” she said. “We hope to see a change in attitude among providers and even in health systems to treat all women as though they’re deserving of respect and the highest-quality treatment.”

Blount refers to Black Women’s Health Imperative’s partnership with Hologic as an important one. As she puts it, “When they speak, people listen.

“Our partnership with Hologic has meant that we have gotten in rooms, in meetings, in front of people that we might not otherwise have been invited to,” she continued. “Many times I was the only Black person in the room – and had we not been in those rooms, who knows what would have happened. So the partnership with Hologic allows us to have access to information, meetings and individuals so we can protect the lives of Black women.”