By Ida McPherson
Attorney At Law
America’s young people have made it clear. America needs solutions to its internal systemic problems in order to usher in true justice and equality. In the wake of the death of George Floyd, nothing could be clearer.
Real solutions however must reach beyond police and criminal justice reform. Institutions in the African American community need to be funded. Our nation and our state need to invest in programs and entities that bring about real change.
Here is an example of how our home state could make a real difference. Economic justice could begin with greater economic support of the Hampton University Proton Therapy Institute (HUPTI). HUPTI is a world first class center for cancer research and treatment here in Virginia and only one of thirteen of its kind in the United States. This, at a time when the World Health Organization has predicted a ‘tidal wave of cancer” worldwide and an anticipated increase of cancer victims from 14 million to 19 million people.
In Hampton Roads there are approximately 10,000 new cases of cancer each year and cancers are still the leading cause of death in our state. In 2017 alone, over 42,000 citizens were expected to be diagnosed with cancer and approximately thirty percent of those were expected to result in death in the same year. Now more so than ever, the Commonwealth needs to focus on solidifying the progress that has been made by Hampton University Proton Therapy Institute.
The world was not expecting COVID-19 but with it came a new set of data that is specifically important to the Commonwealth’s most vulnerable citizens. The National Institute of Health and the Virginia Department of Health among others, have identified African Americans as more vulnerable to COVID-19 and COVID-19 is more deadly among African American and minority populations.
The scientific data has identified obesity, heart disease, diabetes and cancer as the major underlying diseases impacting COVID-19. HUPTI certainly is one of the most unique entities to conduct the necessary research now needed to determine the interrelationship of the underlying diseases that plague the African American community in greater numbers and COVID-19 and the resulting higher mortality rates. HUPTI is deeply engaged in research and clinical trials that will benefit our understanding of prostate, lung, and breast cancer and now the other major diseases suffered by African Americans and minorities and their relationship to COVID-19 deaths.
The gift of life and the corresponding ability to lead a healthy life is fundamental to the prosperity of our Commonwealth. Unjust health care disparities create a strain and a stain on our medical care systems. Good health and advanced care such as proton therapy are good business for Virginia. A healthy Virginia eases the financial strain on the health care system as well as adds to the productivity of all its citizens in all aspects of government.
HUPTI is located in Hampton, Virginia and serves patients from around the world and is convenient to our most populated seven cities region of Hampton Roads and the Peninsula. Patients are able to obtain their treatment with little down time and with, if any, side effects. HUPTI also has the benefit of having a relationship with other cancer research centers in the area and around the world and especially in countries that also treat minority populations. We all benefit from those relationships.
In 2013, James Koch, Old Dominion University’s Board of Visitors President Emeritus, spoke at a meeting of business leaders in Norfolk, Virginia, where he warned cities of investing in entertainment and structures that are associated with entertainment when several cities in the area were doing the same. He pointed out that, in fact, cities should spend money but in smarter ways. He emphasized investing in education, research, and development, and highlighted the need to support Hampton University’s Proton Therapy Institute, which he described as a state-of-the-art cancer treatment and research facility. (Inside Business, State of Region report, October 4, 2013). He could see the value of investing in programs that had long term benefits that would strengthen our communities.
The maturing advanced high technology associated with cancer proton therapy, the economic impact and the benefits of increased medical research, will have a long-term impact on the health of generations to come. This gives the General Assembly an opportunity to step into the forefront of fighting cancer, COVID-19, and the underlying diseases affecting its most vulnerable citizens.
It is now the time to invest real money to improve the health of all Virginia. The benefit to one becomes the benefit to all. We don’t need to just talk about problems in Virginia and Hampton Roads. Rhetoric alone is sickening and is an immoral response.
There is no doubt that we need to fix the problems with our police departments and our criminal justice system. Those are especially important in a civilized society and must be improved. However, the death of our citizens from senseless health care disparities is a systemic silent killer and form of economic injustice. Failing to financially support our community resources speaks far louder than just words of encouragement.
So, to our local and state leadership, do not just engage in rhetoric about how much you care, but show how much you care, by how much you invest in real solutions. That is the message from young Americans. They have grown tired of your rhetoric.