Take a look at this infographic. Consider the numbers. What does this say about race and health? About 610,000 people in the United States die of heart disease every year. Heart disease is the leading cause of death in most ethnic groups yet the health disparities for African Americans is cause for even more alarm. African Americans have the highest prevalence of high blood pressure of any ethnic group which greatly increases the risk for stroke. Diabetes is the number one cause of kidney disease in African Americans. Minorities are affected by all sorts of health care issues that stem from a long history of disadvantage. Segregation, racism, prejudice, ignorance, white privilege, discrimination, societal institutions, laws, socioeconomics, and more have all contributed to the poor health of many minorities in this country.
Unfortunately, like many societal issues, whether education, economic, legal, the focus tends to be on surface quick solutions rather than looking at the broader and deeper changes that need to happen. It is easy to find tips to reduce heart disease such as exercise, healthy diets, quit smoking, and regular check-ups. This is not to say that these tips are not good information but tend to ignore the greater and deeper understanding of the historical, political, socioconomic, social-environmental and cultural factors that affect African American health.
History in medicine has not been kind to African Americans. Prior to the Civil War, African Americans were dependent upon their owners for healthcare and many received only a minimum amount of care. After the Civil War African Americans were often in separate hospital wards or not even allowed in hospitals. Many African Americans were not allowed into medical schools or if they were doctors already, could not practice in certain hospitals. Throughout much of history many African Americans were subjected to medical experiments, quite often without consent or without being given the full disclosure of the facts of the procedures of which they were participating. Even now with statistics regarding the health of African Americans so in contrast to non-Hispanic Whites, it is evident that segregation still remains. More must be done to reduce these alarming health disparities.
More research needs to be done regarding health conditions of African Americans and other minority groups. Research and clinical care must be done by more diverse professionals who could bring the cultural aspects to their work important to minority populations. Research and clinical care must be done with respect and understanding, with cultural competence of all racial and ethnic groups. African Americans are greatly underrepresented in healthcare so opportunities are needed for education and employment for those in minority populations so they can help bridge that gap and reduce medical mistrust. A greater understanding of various cultural attitudes, behaviors, customs, practices and beliefs have benefits for all of us when seeking healthcare. Changes are occurring at NIH and various health care and research institutions but we must all become more conscious about how our society and our health institutions affect those who need it most.
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