What to do when good medicine and good intentions are no longer enough
Despite remarkable advances in science, technology and medicine, gaps are continuing to widen in both educational attainment and health status among populations of color. According to a recent “Black Paper” from the African American Leadership Forum, Black Minnesotans continue to face some of the nation’s worst racial disparities in both education and health.
As it turns out, disparities have actually worsened over the past five decades, leaving more adults without diplomas and most African Americans with poor and declining health. Nationwide, African Americans now have the highest rates of high blood pressure in the world.
Black women have the highest rates of heart disease and overweight-obesity of any ethnic group. Yet they are 60 percent less likely to get aggressive diagnostic tests, and are less likely to view weight as a health problem.
Black men are 22 percent more likely to die from lung cancer than White men despite similar rates of smoking. Low graduation rates for Black students are linked not just to poor employment options, but also to worse health.
In the African American community, the “Epidemic Triad” of high blood pressure, prediabetes-diabetes, and overweight-obesity has become so common that it is now commonly ignored. As a result, recent data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) predicts that 77 percent of African Americans are already prediabetic-diabetic — with most of them still undiagnosed.
The chronic kidney diseases that often develop from living with the Epidemic Triad have been shown to advance more often in African Americans to end-stage renal failure due to persistent inequities in care. For all cancers combined, death rates are 25 percent higher for Blacks than for Whites due to later diagnosis and more effective treatments being offered less often. Even if not deliberate, the consequences are the same.
The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., once said, “Of all the forms of inequality, injustice in health care is the most shocking and inhuman.” Today, a half-century later, it is clear that good medicine and good intentions have not been enough. African Americans are increasingly in poor health at alarmingly high rates.
The time for change has come. African Americans must have the opportunity to choose another future.
Twenty-first century problems require 21st century solutions. The Epidemic Triad of high blood pressure, prediabetes-diabetes and overweight-obesity, along with high rates of smoking, leads to most of the other conditions and disabilities African Americans now suffer and die from. This 21st century problem must also have a 21st century solution.
The most impactful solutions of this century continue to come from multicultural, multigenerational thinkers, disruptors and problem-solvers who “believe together,” “create together” and set out to change the world together. CNN contributor Van Jones, president and co-founder of the Dream Corps and host of The Messy Truth with Van Jones, proposed the creation of “Love Armies” to contradict injustices and create positive movements within vulnerable communities.
A collaboration that provides to African American communities the most highly effective, 21st century solutions for today’s most common (but most consequential) progressive diseases is the best example of what Jones meant. A health movement that is not only equitable and accessible to everyone, but also insists on results will offer a measurably better health future for each person. This is a “Love Army” with a very serious mission.
When communities of color are introduced without prejudice to the most innovative 21st century health solutions available, (as they have been at St. Peter’s African Methodist Episcopal Church in Minneapolis and in surrounding churches, communities and states), disparities disappear and progress is dramatic. Dr. King said, “Science gives knowledge, which is power. Religion gives wisdom, which is control.”
The “legacy power” of Reverend King’s deep church-based roots provides a home, a light, a lesson and a platform to deliver science-based knowledge from the wisdom of church-based clinics. When science is combined with re-setting the narrative to high expectations about what is possible for each precious life, problems find solutions and every person is offered the option to choose another future.
With science and the health stories of others, we will in upcoming articles begin to unpack how we got here, why it matters, and what we can do together to change the trajectory of the African American health story. Together we will learn how to stop living sick.
When problems find solutions
Fifty-four-year-old Cynthia Briscoe not only suffered from the “Epidemic Triad” of high blood pressure, Type 2 diabetes and obesity, she was also a 40-year pack-a-day smoker and high school dropout. The mother of two and grandmother of five lost her teeth to smoking and diabetes and had a knee replacement and hysterectomy.
After fewer than six weeks, Cynthia is no longer an insulin-dependent diabetic, has lost 20 pounds, has lowered her once-erratic blood pressure and stopped smoking. She will be a high school graduate as of June 7 and intends to enroll in a pharmacy technician program in the fall.
Dr. Pamela R. Rients is CEO and co-founder of AmenDocs. With Dr. Steven Tuschman and the Reverend Nazim B. Fakir, AmenDocs collaborates with religious institutions, community leaders, large and small organizations, families and individuals to provide equal access to Health Correction services. For more information call Rev. Nazim B. Fakir at 313-737-4020 or Dr. Steven G. Tuschman at 763-746-6185. Or visit their website at healthcorrection.com