This Saturday, Aug. 18, I’ll be attending the African American Men’s Health Symposium at the Norfolk Public Health Center, 830 Southampton Ave. I’ll listen to talks by experts on prostate health, cardiovascular disease, cancer and the disparities in health between our majority and minority populations. I’ll also get in line to take to partake in some of the free health screenings.
It’s all free and includes lunch and jazz music. Doors open at 8 a.m. for registration, with the programs beginning at 9. You can learn more about it, as well as register online, at www.eventbrite.com/event/3488087965 or www.facebook.com/IGHECI, or call (757) 683-8836.
I hope many other men will join me. Learning together and motivating each other is only part of what we must do for the sake of our families, friends and communities. But we also must get a better handle on how health problems are sapping the resources of our commonwealth and country. As a member of Virginia’s General Assembly, I want to understand the issues facing us and how to develop the best solutions. These are stressful times for our economy, and the reforms in health care – while only a start – are still not guaranteed.
Health care not only is important to me as a governmental policy issue. It’s also very personal.
My father passed away from a massive heart attack when he was only 52 years old, and my mother from diabetes at the age of 36. Those are two big reasons why I try to live a healthy lifestyle – eating lots of fruits and vegetables, not smoking, keeping down my weight (most of the time), and maintaining health checkups.
More important reason: My family.
If those aren’t reasons enough, I receive constant reminders in my work as a funeral director. I’m burying more people who are dying of obesity-related diseases while only in their 40s and 50s, who have lost limbs and eyesight to diabetes, whose blocked hearts and arteries have given out well before they were supposed to. I’d much rather see these persons after they’ve led a long and enjoyable life.
Of course, we never know when an unforeseen health problem lurks around the corner. Better laws and progressive legislation can improve many situations, but there are some things that are beyond our scope. I know I could learn much more about what my family and I must do to stay healthy. So, it’s important to take advantage of opportunities like Saturday’s African American Men’s Health Symposium – especially when it’s free!
Here are some startling statistics about the health problems of African Americans, according to The Office of Minority Health of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services:
• Around 40 percent of African American men and women have some form of heart disease, contrasted to 30 percent of white men and 24 percent of white women. Also, African Americans are 29 percent more likely to die from the disease than whites.
• African Americans are twice as likely to have diabetes as whites, and African Americans with diabetes are more likely to suffer complications of diabetes, such as eye disease, kidney failure and having conditions that lead to the amputation of legs and feet.
• African Americans are 10 times more likely to die of AIDS than whites, with AIDS being the leading cause of death in African American women aged 25-34 and the third leading cause of death in African American men in the same age range. More than 64 percent of HIV-positive infants are African American.
• In fighting off influenza, 69 percent of older white people received flu shots in 2003, contrasted with only 49 percent of older African Americans. For pneumococcal vaccinations, nearly 60 percent of whites received them but only 37 percent of African Americans.
How do these trends and other health trends translate for African Americans in South Hampton Roads?
According to a Virginia Department of Health report, based on the year 2006:
• The heart-disease death rate among African Americans across Virginia is 231.7 per 100,000 people. But for the five main cities of South Hampton Roads – Norfolk, Chesapeake, Portsmouth, Suffolk and Virginia Beach – the heart-disease death rate for African Americans is higher at 267.58.
• For diabetes, the death rate among Virginia’s African Americans is 44.8 people per 100,000. For African Americans in South Hampton Roads, it’s 54.84.
• Stroke? Across Virginia, the African American death rate is 68.9 per 100,000. The figure for African Americans in South Hampton Roads is 81.44.
• Throughout Virginia, 38.3 African Americans per 100,000 die of kidney diseases. In South Hampton Roads, the rate is 42.16 for African Americans.
• The HIV/AIDS death rate for African Americans in Virginia is 11.5 per 100,000 people. In South Hampton Roads, it’s 15.96.
• The cancer death rate throughout Virginia is 219.9 per 100,000 African Americans. The death rate for African Americans in South Hampton Roads is 224.8.
To be a little more specific in relation to Saturday’s free symposium, Hampton Roads has the highest death rate for prostate cancer in the nation, according to the Center for Disease Control.
Now, put that together with what The Office of Minority Health of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services says about the prostate cancer rate: The prostate cancer incidence rate among African American men is 60 percent higher than for white men, while the death rate is more than twice as high.
We all have to learn much more about these and other health problems, and Saturday’s African American Men’s Health Symposium is a good place for doing that.
By the way, the symposium is subtitled “Illuminating Good Health: Eliminating the Cloak of Invisibility.” That means we all have a role in turning on the light and making the problems – and solutions – more visible.
Yes, such health problems require more governmental funding for a host of services including prevention, medical care, pharmaceutical research, education and public outreach. It’s also up to us to learn, to spread the information to other people, to encourage each other to take better care of ourselves and our families – and, indeed, speak up when necessary.
Please don’t forget. Check out Saturday’s African American Men’s Health Symposium at www.eventbrite.com/event/3488087965 or www.facebook.com/IGHECI, or call (757) 683-8836.