By Dr. Cynthia Burwell
On Saturday, January 28th, 9 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., members of the community will convene Tackling Health Disparities in the African-American Community Conference at Second Calvary Baptist Church to “deal” with health disparities that have negative health consequences in our community, says D. K. seneca Bock, who is the Co-Chair for the Mid-Atlantic Regional Health Equity Council.
The Center of Excellence in Minority Health Disparities was developed three years ago as one of Norfolk State University’s strategic initiatives in its Six Year Strategic Plan to help promote health equity and eliminate health disparity.
Using the Community-Based Participation Research model, this work includes collaborative research and programming with various community-based health organizations across Hampton Roads and the Commonwealth of Virginia. Health disparities are defined as the “inequalities that occur in the provision of health care and access to health care across different racial, ethnic and socio-economic groups.
During the conference, Bock says the main role she will play is of facilitator and policy expert. Below are comments from three of the conference participants: Dr. Allan Noonan, former Assistant Surgeon General, and pre-eminent health policy expert; Claudette Overton, and Cora Bridgers (both breast cancer survivors) and leaders of the church’s Cancer Ministry.
CB (Dr. Cythnia Burwell): Dr. Noonan, as one of the founding members of the Mid-Atlantic Regional Health Equity Council, what would you say are some of the most pressing issues on the horizon as it relates to health disparities? Why is it important to have HBCUs be an ongoing part of the solutions to health disparities? What specific roles do you think they might play over the next 5 years?
Dr. Allan Noonan: I see many answers to this question. I think that cardiovascular disease, the health consequences of violence, and the inadequate handling of mental health issues come to mind immediately. All three of these issues have major impact on people of color, are inadequately handled by health systems, and do not obtain the appropriate attention when it comes to prevention.
Members of the community must also realize that all of the prevention is not the responsibility of the medical system. Educational and social systems must consider these issues as they address their priorities. I must also include the whole issue of infant mortality. African-American babies are still twice as likely to die as infants than the average infant.
African-Americans are 13 percent of the US population, they are nowhere near 13 percent of any major health profession – 5 percent of MDs, 3 percent of dentists, 10 percent of nurses. HBCUs play a major role in the education of African-Americans but are not participants in the nation’s recent surge in the training of health professionals. It is documented that African-American students at HBCUs have better academic performance, greater social involvement, and higher occupational aspirations than those at Traditionally White Institutions. HBCUs can enhance significantly the suitability of the health workforce in serving those in most need of preventive and treatment the communities where health disparities are greatest. They play an essential role in augmenting the pipeline of providers dedicated to eliminating disparities.
CB: (Dr. Cythnia Burwell): Sisters Overton and Bridgers, how did you become involved in getting the message out about health disparities? And what comes to mind when you think of health disparities?
Claudette Overton: Several members of the Spiritual Support for Cancer Ministry at Second Calvary Baptist Church attended the Dec. 9th Health Disparities Listening Tour. We were very much interested in this community forum because for over 10 years, we have worked in the church and community to provide education and awareness, access to free mammograms and other supports that were available through agencies like the American Cancer Society and Sentara Hospital.
This was a major gathering that promoted the exchange of novel ideas and information from a wide range of professionals from academia, government, medical profession, social services, communities and churches.
When I think of health disparities, I am concerned that where a person lives, or how much money he makes, or the fact that he is a minority, or does not have health insurance, that he would be impacted more by the prevalence, morbidity, and mortality of certain diseases. This is a subject we all need to be familiar with. January 15th was Dr. King’s birthday. We must not forget, his entire movement was devoted to equality.
Cora Bridgers: I attended the forum at Norfolk State because I wanted, and knew I needed more information in order to help the community. Simply put, a lot of people really don’t know or understand what health disparities are about, or what social determinants mean and how they are related to diseases such as heart attack, stroke or diabetes, kidney diseases, poor circulation, etc.
Through my involvement with cancer education, and Fredda Bryan with the American Cancer Society, I was able to learn some things about disparities, but there is so much more to learn. I feel responsible as a servant in my church and the community to help disseminate more knowledge.
Our Power Up Lunch is sponsored by and supported by a generous donation from Sentara Healthcare. We are most appreciative of their kindness and support.
Reserve your seat at (757) 627-7772, or at (757) 278-2589. Free and Open to Public.