Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Health disparities, and efforts to tackle them, persist

Written by William S. Robinson, MA

Barbers and clients learn about health disparities
and the risks associated with Prostate Cancer
through the B.A.P Caps initiative.  
April is designated by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (U.S. DHHS) and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) as National Minority Health Month, a month dedicated to heightened awareness of differences in health status that exist in the U.S.  These differences, known as 'disparities,' have deep roots and have been a topic of focused concern for the nation's top health officials, researchers and advocates since Dr. David Satcher helped make it a part of his Surgeon General platform under the Bill Clinton Administration.  Nearly twenty-five years later, we have not closed the gaps in health status that were originally identified. Efforts continue under the Healthy People 2020 goals.

Black men die at nearly two times the rate of white men from prostate cancer.  Latinos/Hispanics and Native Americans have higher rates of obesity and diabetes, and die two to three times more often from both than their white counterparts.  No one should die from diabetes.  Women of color get and die from breast cancer up to four times more often than their white counterparts.  More Black men and women contract and die from HIV/AIDS than others.  Black men smoke at the highest rate of all smokers of color, mainly due to the constant targeting of mentholated tobacco products in Black and poor neighborhoods.  What is commonly understood is that the segment of the U.S. population with the poorest overall health is Black men. A few years ago a major study revealed that the best place for Black men to get comprehensive health care was in prison.  Is this the kind of health care that the "best country in the world" is supposed to provide for its residents?  I think not.

Causes of health disparities are historic and varied, with some engrained in the very system that is designed to eliminate them.  I developed a formula some years ago that helps explain how we got to this state of poor health.  My formula states that if we add "poor health practices" (we do not do what we are supposed to do, even when we know what we should be doing, as individuals, to ensure good health) to "a lack of licensed health providers" (we are not producing a sufficient number of health professionals to meet the needs of the U.S. population, thus underserved areas exist in nearly every state), to "a disparate health care system" (a health care system that treats people differently because of their color, their gender, their economic and/or insurance status), then we can't help but have "poor health outcomes", because this system is designed to give you exactly that.

What needs to be done is a) do everything to ensure you have optimum personal health; b) encourage young people of color to study to become health professionals, particularly in the area of public health; and c) speak out loudly when you access any part of the health care system and you are treated differently, or witness someone else being treated differently, because of their color, gender, how much money they make, or insurance status.  All of these will help to change the current system into one that acknowledges every person as a unique individual with value and worth that is no different than those currently providing the care.
For additional information visit the following webisites:
Office of Minority Health

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services - National Minority Health Month Activities/Events (www.hhs.gov)
Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) - National Minority Health Month Activities

Black Men's Health Initiative
William S. Robinson is the founder of The Black Men's Health Initiative (BMHI), a nonprofit that educates African-Americans and African men of the diaspora on the risks and complications of chronic disease. Its signature B.A.P (Brothers Against Prostate) Cap program educates men about prostate cancer in barber shops throughout the Southeast. For more information, visit www.bmhi.org

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