Most, if not all, African-Americans look at President Barack Obama as the ultimate symbol of the gains our people have made in the last several decades. Yes, there is still work to be done but we are, on the surface, doing better economically and financially than we were just a few generations ago. Dig a little deeper, however, and you’ll find that huge disparities still exist. Health and healthcare are two of the areas you’ll find those glaring holes.
According to the Center for Disease Control, African-Americans are affected by and die from heart disease, diabetes, cancer, HIV and homicide at disproportionate rates. Our infant death rate among is more than double that of whites. Heart disease death rates are 40 percent higher for African-Americans than for Whites and the death rate for all cancers is 30 percent higher for us than for Whites. The death rate from HIV/AIDS for African-Americans is more than seven times that for Whites, while the rate of homicide is six times that for Whites.
Sobering news, indeed. Why are affected at such alarmingly high rates? There are many reasons and poverty is among them. Many African-Americans have no health insurance and a trip to doctor is an expense many can’t afford. For those who do have insurance the co-pay for a doctor’s visit is often too high. Lack of access is another reason. Health clinics in urban areas have been closing as local governments have struggled to balance their budgets. Without a doctor in their neighborhood, many don’t have the resources to travel to seek care.
We can’t let ourselves off the hook: as a people, we must take responsibility for the food we eat and the unhealthy lifestyles we live. We must learn portion control, monitor our intake of salt and limit fatty and fried foods, no matter how good they taste. We must also incorporate physical activity into our lives and practice safe sex. And we must teach our children to do the same.
To be fair, eating healthily is easier said than done, especially for those living in urban cities, surrounded by food desserts and few grocery stores that stock healthy, well-priced item. The government is doing its part to help address these and other issues that lead to health disparities. The Department of Health and Human Services is providing $100 million in community grants to promote healthier lifestyles and the CDC, with their, Racial and Ethnic Approaches to Community Health, is steering funds to local programs that target Blacks and Latinos in an effort to close these gaps.
The healthcare law President Obama fought to pass includes provisions for programs that work in underserved communities to provide healthcare and screening; that law is one of the best tools we have at our disposal. Our local legislators must work to ensure the funds provided are utilized in the best possible way, while we must work on a personal level to take control of our health. It’s important that we stay healthy so that we may continue to achieve.
(Judge Greg Mathis is vice president of RainbowPUSH and a national board member of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.)