Jefferson Health and Novartis Pharmaceuticals Corp. on Monday announced a three-year, $3 million effort to improve cardiovascular health in poor neighborhoods in North and South Philadelphia.

The “Closing the Gap” program will work to alleviate socio-economic problems, such as a lack of stable housing, steady jobs, and ample food, that contribute to illness. The program also aims to increase access to care and provide education on risk factors for cardiovascular disease.

The joint effort, funded by Novartis, a drug giant based in Switzerland, will work out of the Hansjörg Wyss Wellness Center in South Philadelphia and the Frazier Family Coalition for Stroke Education and Prevention in North Philadelphia and cover five ZIP codes that are home to 200,000 people, Jefferson said.

“Philadelphia is rich in pride, it’s rich in culture, it’s rich in history, and it’s rich in health-care institutions, yet we’ve not translated that richness to improve the health outcomes of our most vulnerable communities,” Sandra E. Brooks, an ob-gyn who is also Jefferson’s chief community health equity officer, said during the announcement at Jones Memorial Baptist Church in North Philadelphia.

“We have the data, we have the will, and now we’ll have more resources and people to do what we know needs to be done, to work alongside our community partners to close the gaps that are devastating our neighborhoods, leading to hundreds of preventable strokes, heart attacks, death, and disability from preventable conditions,” said Brooks, referring to the Novartis funding.

The factors Jefferson and Novartis want to address — housing, jobs, food, education, and access to health care providers — are called social determinants of health, which means that they have nothing to do with one’s physical makeup, but are structural issues in society that impact health.

More attention is being paid to such factors as key to preserving health, rather than waiting until illness develops. This year, for the first time, the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services requires insurers that manage Medicaid benefits for 2.7 million Pennsylvanians to pay community organizations to help people overcome social and economic barriers to better health.

Temple University Hospital, Resources for Human Development, and two Medicaid insurers, Health Partner’s Plans and Keystone First, are participating in a pilot program to improve conditions for homeless people who were frequent emergency department visitors.

Jefferson will house Closing the Gap within its Philadelphia Collaborative for Health Equity, which has raised $40 million since 2014, including the Novartis money and $5 million for the Frazier Family Coalition for Stroke Education and Prevention in North Philadelphia, a partnership with Temple.

The Jefferson-Novartis partnership is focused on people in four North Philadelphia ZIP codes (19121, 19132, 19133 and 19140) and one South Philadelphia ZIP code (19148).

Stephen K. Klasko, president of Thomas Jefferson University, which owns Jefferson Health, called the work with Novartis the “coming of age” of the Philadelphia Collaborative, which he said is the thing he’s most proud of during his eight years at Jefferson.

“This is us coming of age, not just talking about health equity,” he said. “The goal of this is not to sit in our office and try to take care of the problem. We’re going to be in barbershops. We’re going to be in homes. We’re going to be working with the Urban League” and go door to door, Klasko said.

Novartis said it wants to take what it learns in Philadelphia to other cities, said David Platt, a Novartis vice president and head of the company’s cardiovascular, renal, and metabolism medical unit.

Novartis has set a companywide goal to reduce deaths from cardiovascular disease in the U.S., Platt said. “There’s no way to achieve the kinds of metrics we’re looking to in terms of reducing cardiovascular deaths without closing some of these disparities,” he said.

The Philadelphia Inquirer is one of more than 20 news organizations producing Broke in Philly, a collaborative reporting project on solutions to poverty and the city’s push toward economic justice. See all of our reporting at