For decades now, blacks have suffered disproportionately from illnesses both deadly and not: Diabetes, heart disease, HIV/AIDS, hypertension—all of them are scourges of the Black community, and all of them are generally preventable. The problem is Blacks have also suffered with healthcare disparities for a long time. But a new federal program hopes to finally close this gap and show Blacks that it doesn’t have to be this way.
The program is a collaboration between the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the University of Alabama. It finds volunteers going out into Black communities, sometimes door to door, and doing the very simple work that it takes to get Blacks to start taking their health seriously.
Clara Robertson is one of these volunteers. Robertson tells USA Today that her job is to go into rural areas throughout her state and talk to other African-American women about cancer. She tries and convince women to go get cancer screenings and she hands out pamphlets to raise cancer awareness. Still, some women won't heed her advice. Robertson says her mother "didn't believe in doctors."
It's not rare for Blacks to not trust authority figures like police, lawyers, and doctors. And beyond that mistrust, there are other cultural factors impacting Black health as well.
The first and most obvious, according to experts, is that poverty prevents a lot of people from receiving care. The fact of the matter is that if you don't have health insurance, you likely aren't going to go to the doctor for costly health screenings or procedures. The second and less apparent, however, is that many African-Americans have no idea that life doesn't have to be so darkened by illness.
Health professionals deem this the Black community's “fatalistic outlook”:
Leandris Liburd, director of the CDC's Office of Minority Health and Health Equity, says she is taken aback when she visits her hometown of Richmond, Va. "It's not uncommon for me to come upon people I grew up with who are in their early 50s who are double amputees" and who see this as the natural course of aging, Liburd says.
Simply put, too many African-Americans think it’s normal to die in their 50s or lose limbs due to complications from diabetes. In fact, that’s not normal by an stretch of the imagination, and government programs have been designed to make that clear.
In a partnership with the CDC, the U.S. Department of Health is offering $100 million in grants in order to create programs that promote healthier living in communities of color. What’s more, new federally funded programs are working in places like Alabama to promote cancer screenings amongst Black women, who die of breast cancer more than white women despite getting the disease less.
It’s high time for Blacks to know that they don’t have to feel sick all the time, and there are programs out there to help.
(Photo: Brian Snyder/Reuters