Health professionals agree African-Americans have the most, and many times the largest, differences in health risks when compared to other ethnic groups. One factor could be that African-American women are less likely to receive healthcare, even when they have access to it.

“We present late. We die early. It is so important that we understand health involves every aspect of your being, emotional, physical, social and sexual,” said Dr. Margaret Larkins-Pettigrew, who specializes in obstetrics and gynecology. “They don’t teach this in schools. Many people have access to healthcare and don’t access healthcare.”

LOVE YOURSELF—Dr. Charma Dudley leads a workshop for girls ages 10-13. (Photo by J.L. Martello).

Larkins-Pettigrew who is the former president of the Gateway Medical Society, was one of many presenters at the GMS and Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Inc. sponsored health symposium on May 14. The “Gateway to Wellness: Our Health is Our Wealth” symposium offered to Black females ages 10 and up was part of GMS’s mission to close the health gap between African-Americans and other ethnic groups.

“I hope they realize as women how important it is to make healthcare a priority. They make most of the healthcare decisions,” said Dr. Rhonda Moore, president, Gateway Medical Society. “If women can take the time to take care of everyone else, they need to take care of themselves.”

GMS works to enhance the quality of health services by addressing the ethnic and racial disparities in healthcare and enhance wellness by providing health education to the community. The symposium included a number of workshops and sessions divided into two tracks for young women and older women that addressed issues such as stress, sexual health, plastic surgery, emotional health and chronic diseases.

“You just keep hearing about African-American women and it just seems like we get everything. And actually we get it less but we die from it more,” said Dr. Anita Edwards, who specializes in internal medicine. “African-Americans are 29 percent more likely to die from heart disease than non-Hispanic Whites.”

The symposium also offered health screenings for blood pressure, cholesterol, and other blood tests. Due to lack of trust in the medical system, cultural differences, problems accessing care, and a lack of knowledge about the importance of tests, some of the women had gone many years without these screenings.

“Apply what you’ve learned today. Think about what you’ve learned today and put it into practice,” Moore said. “We have seen a lot of abnormal lab results today. Any of you who received abnormal ­results, please follow up with your doctor.”

Although the day addressed serious health issues and served as a wake-up call for many, several women said they enjoyed expanding their health knowledge in the company of the other women.

“I was amazed at just, I don’t even know where to begin. The information was very informative,” said Paulette Blakey. “I enjoyed it to no end. It wasn’t a day that was boring by any means.”

The youth track of the symposium was equally focused on emotional health and physical health. One session, “Gateway to Hip Hop and Living Healthy” focused on how hip-hop music can be used to promote and deter healthy living.

“I learned that you should always take care of your body. It’s important to take care of your body because you only have one,” said Tamoni Trent, 11. “I’m going to try to eat better and go to sleep when I’m told.”

“I learned that it’s important to keep your body healthy like if you don’t keep your bones healthy, they could collapse,” said Tamia Trent, 10. “I’m going to eat healthy and only eat snacks sometimes in small portions.”

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