Some healthcare providers say African Americans have never been healthier, while others claim they have never been more at risk. Still others marvel over African Americans having been able to survive at all.
Consider the following facts: Comparatively, Blacks do not have the same access to healthcare as whites, nor sufficient education or exposure to fully understand the importance of preventive healthcare. For the most part, healthcare research often does not even include Black Americans, nor does such research adequately examine the impact of certain diseases on Blacks, in general. Also, Black mothers, and increasingly, Black teen age girls do not receive proper care, nor do the latter get consistent prenatal care.
Many African American children inherit the unhealthy “soul food” diet of their parents, making them prime candidates for a host of diseases, such as hypertension, heart disease and obesity. Inner-city children, who are disproportionately African American, suffer more disproportionately from exposure to asbestos found in decaying buildings in their neighborhoods. Violence in many Black communities, as in other poor communities of color, ends life faster than many chronic diseases. In fact, heath care professionals now describe violence in the inner city as an epidemic healthcare crisis.
Because of the continued vestiges of racism and poverty, including broken homes and neighborhoods where gang warfare and violence are rampant, Blacks are direct as well as indirect victims of stress that exacerbates physical and mental health problems. And generally, Black men and Black women tend to postpone seeing a doctor until a problem or disease is in a more advanced stage.
Most African American physicians are concerned about what they term the deteriorating conditions of Black health care in the U.S. They also believe that Blacks are not only failing to receive proper healthcare, but are maintaining poor health habits, which makes preventive healthcare next to impossible. A consensus among healthcare professionals is that unless African Americans change their lifestyle and become better educated about healthcare risks, the net result will remain disproportionately early deaths in the Black community.
A decade ago, figures from the federal government on median survival rates indicated the following: white women, 79.8 years; white males, 72.6 years; Black women, 73.4 years and Black males, 64.6 years. The latter are dying before they have a change to collect their first Social Security check.
Overall, the status of Black healthcare has not improved appreciably, although the working class does have more health benefits. (The Affordable Healthcare Act has helped but is far from a panacea. Even many poor recipients report coverage is not sufficient and information is still confusing about costs and coverage.) It seems full and proper implementation of the Act will take considerably longer than thought.
According to Dr. Tracy Walton, former president of the National Medical Association (NMA), “There hasn’t been much improvement in the diseases that affect Blacks—hypertension, heart disease, stroke and cancer.) Dr. Walton says the NMA stresses the importance of disease prevention. He feels Blacks must do more than just get themselves to the doctor and take proper medication….”They must actively attempt to reduce stress, eat properly and get sufficient rest.” He also warns about the health risks associated with eating improper foods, stressing that diet is a serious contributing factor to a host of diseases. Further, most healthcare professionals agree that access and health education are critical factors in improving the quality of healthcare, especially in the Black community.
While many Blacks don’t trust white doctors, many don’t trust Black doctors either. It is widely reported that if given a choice, many Blacks patients will choose a white physician over a white physician, according to African American physicians.
The NMA adopted a prevention project that advanced an agenda targeting the Black community. It considers community outreach essential for improving healthcare among African Americans. The project is geared to the specific needs of local communities.
Dr. Valiere Alcena, a New York internist, is the author of “African American Healthcare ”, (1994). The book discusses the history, symptoms and treatment of diseases that affect Blacks in the U.S. Dr. Alcena ranks what he terms the ten diseases that most threaten African Americans. They are hypertension, stroke, cardiovascular, cancer, obesity, diabetes, kidney failure, alcoholism, drug addiction and HIV AIDS.
The book provides an informational and clinical analysis of major health problems for non-healthcare professionals. Dr. Alcena also takes a critical look at other health factors that impact the Black community and targets a number of socio-economic solutions which would help improve the overall quality of healthcare. He believes that a true solution for African Americans must include better housing, better schooling and, obviously, better healthcare, as well as more clinics with staff physicians and more hospitals that are well-equipped, well-staffed and well-funded.
In summary, quality healthcare for African Americans also requires new thinking, new attitudes and new behavior throughout the Black community. All are essential for the ultimate goal, which is quality and preventive healthcare for the entire Black community.