Friday, April 09, 1999

Speaker: African-Americans, doctors are at odds

Conference examines why deaths unbalanced

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        African-Americans make up 13 percent of the U.S. population, yet they accounted for 80 percent of fatalities in a study of 121,000 premature deaths.

        “These are things like appendicitis, the flu, a hernia. ... If given the right treatment, they don't die,” Dr. O'dell Owens said, referring to a study in the Journal of Epidemiology.

        He was keynote speaker at a conference Thursday in Bond Hill that examined why African-Americans continue to suffer disproportionately from chronic and preventable diseases compared to white Americans.

        Dr. Owens and Cincinnati Health Commissioner Malcolm Adcock spoke to about 75 health-care professionals at Integrity Hall.

        Dr. Adcock addressed “Health Care in the New Millennium” and said that changes in the health-care system will have more effect on “minorities, the poor and underserved in this country.”

        To Dr. Owens, a nationally recognized fertility specialist and public health expert who is African-American, blacks hold a major key to improving their health.

        “We could improve our level of health care if we comply, keep our appointments and take the medication prescribed by doctors,” he said.

        But, he added, even as more doctors try to become culturally competent, too many still don't understand an important concept:

        “To treat people best, you must treat people differently,” he said. “We have to understand why people don't keep their appointments.”

        Dr. Owens' presentation was “fact,” he said, “not emotion,” and he listed several diseases and conditions that afflict African-Americans more than whites — diabetes, lupus, hypertension, asthma, HIV/AIDS and cancer.

        In Ohio, according to state health department statistics released late last year, the overall death rate from lung cancer — the No. 1 cancer killer in Ohio — is up 46 percent since 1973, and the rates are far worse for black men than any other group.

        The death rate from prostate cancer is 121 percent higher for black men than white men, and past studies have indicated that black men are less likely to seek prostate exams.

        Black women in Ohio remain more likely to die from breast cancer, 33.6 per 100,000 compared to 27.4 for white women.

        Dr. Owens also provided historical perspective for many blacks' distrust of the medical establishment, including the practice of white doctors using slaves for experimental procedures and medicine in the 19th century and the 40-year Tuskegee, Ala., experiment in which 399 black men were denied treatment for syphilis so researchers could study the dis ease's long-term effects.

        “They published papers until 1972, and no one ever questioned the ethics of this,” Dr. Owens said.

        He also said there was not a single solution but instead detailed some measures that can be done.

        “We need to vote for the right people,” said Dr. Owens, while calling for doctors and hospitals to provide “culturally specific literature” to patients.

        He said he also would support a saturation of radio airwaves with daily public service announcements for two years that reminded listeners how to prevent and treat such killer diseases as HIV/AIDS, prostate cancer, breast cancer, heart ailments and diabetes.


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