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100 Black Men Address Health Disparities

By Veronica Mackey

Is Health in the Black community improving?  This question was one of many recently addressed by health experts at the 17th Annual National Conference of 100 Black Men of America, Inc.  The 100 hosted a huge gathering of men in Las Vegas, NV, June 4-8 at the MGM Grand Hotel.

Dr. James Black, National Health and Wellness Chairman and National Member-At-Large, facilitated the health workshop while health professionals screened attendees for cholesterol, diabetes, body mass index, asthma, high blood pressure and hemoglobin, (red blood cell count). 

            The sessions raised a lot of questions about health disparities, according to Black.  “We are asking our government to assist in our men’s health.  We want to know why we don’t have support from the private and public sectors, health consortiums, scientists, fraternities and medical schools.  We (U.S.) have access to some of the best minds in the world,” Black said.  The 100’s health and wellness committee advocates partnering with health organizations and government groups to strategize, design and administer a plan to educate and help men—particularly African American men—understand how precious the gift of life is. 

Of the nearly 40,000 men in America with AIDS, over half are African American. While AIDS is the fifth leading cause of death for all Americans, it is the leading cause of death for African Americans between the ages of 25 and 44.  Approximately 4,000,000 people will be diagnosed with diabetes this year, and over half will be African American.  Black infant mortality rates are nearly three times higher than white babies and African American women are 2 times more likely to have limited prenatal care. 

“We asked why there are so fewer kidney transplants, bypass surgeries and other procedures performed on African Americans as compared to whites.  There is a wide gap between health care; racial and ethnic groups are the hardest hit,” Black said.

Medical professionals often debate the causes of these disparities.  Why are African Americans routinely the worst off when rates of chronic illnesses are compared? Many cite the lack of economic resources, exorbitant doctors fees, lack of education or awareness.  Some argue that black folks don’t feel welcome in white hospitals, and that black men don’t like going to the doctor.

Many African Americans point to the Tuskegee Syphilis Experiments as the basis of their reluctance.  The 40-year medical experiments recruited 400 black men from Tuskegee, Alabama under false pretenses and failed to provide treatment.  Studies were conducted by government doctors.  Black noted that the experiments fostered suspicions among African Americans, but added that men are universally distrustful of medical professionals.

 “I don’t think anyone really knows why men don’t trust doctors,” he said.  “We have an inherent feeling that makes it difficult to acknowledge that we’re vulnerable.  We don’t want anyone else to be in charge of our health so we won’t share an illness, weakness or disease with anyone.  I think it’s more of a ‘man’ thing.”

“Women go in for birth control and pap smears so they develop a comfort level with doctors. They get used to talking about their bodies.  Men don’t go unless something hurts.  They never really develop a relationship with a doctor.”

            Black said men need to understand that avoiding doctors puts their health at risk. “That’s the bottom line.  This life is no dress rehearsal. We are holding in our hands right now the passport to good health.  We must take charge and responsibility for our own health, no one is going to do it for us.”

Men’s Check Up Calendar

Staying healthy is a planned result.  Men should plan on getting these routine exams around their birthdates.  If you cannot afford an exam, call your local county health department

for referrals to low-cost or no-cost programs:

Condition                                Exam                           Age     Frequency

Diabetes                     Glucose Tolerance Blood          40        Every 3 years; 1-2                                                                                                                                years if abnormal         

Prostate Cancer            Digital Rectal Exam or 40-45   Annually          

                                    PSA

Colon Cancer               Colonoscopy                            50        Every 10 years

Hypertension                High Blood Pressure                 50        Annually