We must effectively address the healthcare needs of people of colorBy Veita Bland, M.D. / February 11, 2022
Many things have been revealed over the last few months of the COVID-19 pandemic as far as healthcare equity and access is concerned. Equity in healthcare is vital in order to maintain a healthy, productive society. More people of color, percentage wise, have succumbed to the ravages of COVID-19. Why would this be? Well, the answer is complicated.
We know that many people of color were not well cared for prior to the pandemic. Due to suboptimal health care as well as a patients’ pre-existing conditions, these factors have made such populations more susceptible to developing serious COVID-19 complications.
Pre-existing conditions which exacerbate COVID symptoms are conditions such as hypertension, diabetes, obesity, asthma and bronchitis, to list a few. Unfortunately, these illnesses affect many people of color. For example, African Americans make up 13 percent of the U.S. population, however approximately forty percent of African American men and women have hypertension. This high number is largely due to many African Americans being obese, diabetic and they have often inherited a gene that makes them more sensitive to salt, which can elevate blood pressure. Consumption of an American diet high in fat, carbohydrates and sugar, which is far from a diet consumed on the African continent, also plays a role in the development of hypertension. These factors are indeed complicated on a biochemical level.
Nearly 13 percent of African Americans are diabetic. This disease often overlaps with hypertension, heart disease and high cholesterol. It is the complications caused by diabetes which contribute to a patient’s morbidity and mortality. Therefore, diabetics do not die of diabetes but rather die of heart disease exacerbated by diabetes. This also makes patients more susceptible to other illnesses.
More than 76 percent of African Americans are considered to be obese. Obesity increases the occurrence of hypertension, diabetes and other cardiovascular diseases.
To maintain a one’s health, high quality foods consisting of fresh vegetables, fruits and less fried foods should be accessible in locations close to where people live and at a reasonable cost. People must be provided with foods that are close to the farm. Processed foods should be avoided. Our communities must demand that the density of fast-food establishments in our neighborhoods be replaced with healthy alternatives. Our nutritional fuel consumption is so important. Junk in equates to junk having adverse effects in the body.
African Americans have a 30 percent higher incidence of death due to cardiovascular disease than Caucasian Americans. Even though African Americans tend to smoke less cigarettes and start to smoke later in life than Caucasian Americans, the African American mortality rate for cardiovascular disease is 30 percent higher than that of Caucasian Americans.
Stress is a definite marker that contributes to poor health outcomes. People of color deal with higher levels of stress than their Caucasian counterparts because they must cope with stress caused by racism, finances, and simply the dynamics of daily life. These are just a few of the examples of how people of color see their lives shortened by the aforementioned factors.
So, how do we start to address these factors? That is truly a complicated answer that encompasses many layers on so many fronts.
High quality healthcare must be easily accessible to all. It must also be affordable. Basic care must be brought to communities where such services don’t exist or are difficult to obtain. It must also be delivered by trusted healthcare professionals in a nonjudgmental way.
Another factor prominent in our current pandemic is a lack of adequate transportation at a reasonable cost to enable people to find jobs that will allow them to get out of poverty.
People also need educational support to help them acquire the skills needed to secure better paying jobs in order to afford more nutritious foods.
Mitigating unsafe living conditions is a must. Teaching stress reduction techniques such a meditation and journaling are some first steps.
We must also make sure that children are safe, healthy and can access healthcare and the things they need via financial support.
These are just a few of the factors we need to address in order to improve the health and the lives of people of color.
Dr. Veita Bland is a board-certified Greensboro physician and hypertension specialist. Dr. Bland’s radio show, “It’s a Matter of Your Health,” can be heard live on Wednesdays, 5:30 p.m. on N.C. A&T State University’s WNAA, 90.1 FM. Listeners may call in and ask questions. The show is replayed on Sirius 142 at 5 p.m. on Wed. Email Dr. Bland at email@example.com.