President Barack Obama may claim victory over his health care bill that passed in the House of Representatives last month, but as an African-American male, the real victory for him and so many others like him remains elusive.
The new law provides a system of health care intended to be more affordable and accessible to every American. The bill anticipates that every American will avail themselves to medical resources that will enable them to live longer and healthier lives with prevention being the key to success.
But the fact that African-Americans face a wide range of health disparities explains why April has been declared National Minority Health Month by the Office of Minority Health (OMH). And statistics show that simply passing a health care bill alone is only a small step towards improving the overall health of African-Americans, particularly African-American males.
National Negro Health Week was initiated in 1915 by Booker T. Washington. Dr. Washington sensed the capacity of this movement and appreciated its possibilities, and thus became the All-American champion of Negro health. In 1914, Washington stated, “Without health, and until we reduce the high death rate, it will be impossible for us to have permanent success in business, in property getting, in acquiring education, or to show other evidences of progress.”
Included in the first call for National Health Week in 1915 were 14 African-American agencies and organizations, while the 1934 call included over 45 groups which were active for both White and Black.
The Office of Minority Health and the United States Department of Health and Human Services took Washington’s National Negro Health Week and recreated it as National Minority Health Month, a vehicle to promote exercise, wellness and health improvement.
The National Vital Statistics Reports show that African-Americans continue to have a lower life expectancy rate than the general population. The life expectancy for African-Americans is 70.2 years, compared to an average of 76.5 years for all other populations. The difference in life expectancy is even more striking among African-American men, who have a life expectancy of only 66.1 years, compared to the national average of 73.6 years for men.
The OMH lists the top five causes of death among African-American men which includes: heart disease, cancer, unintentional injuries, stroke, homicide, diabetes, HIV, chronic lower respiratory diseases, kidney disease and influenza-pneumonia. By and large, all of these diseases are preventable and most of them are exacerbated by risky lifestyles that include smoking, a habit President Obama has yet to kick.
This month African-American men should be asking themselves, “Hey man, what have you done for your health lately?” Start now by making a doctor’s appointment and turn the health care bill into something that was worth fighting for.
(Reprinted from the Washington Informer.)