Friday, June 08, 2001

Health, education the great divide

Schools, churches must do more to end black/white disparities, Elders says

By Tim Bonfield
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Much more work is needed to eliminate deep health disparities between white and black people in America, says former U.S. Surgeon General Joycelyn Elders.

        “We have the best hospitals, the best doctors, the best nurses in the world. We spend 14.6 percent of our GDP (gross domestic product) on health care. That's more than any country in the world,” Dr. Elders said. “But do we have the best health? Absolutely not.”

Dr. Joycelyn Elders, former U.S. Surgeon General, speaks at the 15th University of Cincinnati/Health Alliance Black Client Workshop on Thursday about the need for better health education.
        Dr. Elders spoke Thursday in Cincinnati as part of the 16th annual Black Client Workshop, sponsored by the Health Alliance of Greater Cincinnati, University Hospital and the University of Cincinnati.

        The daylong event at the Albert B. Sabin Cincinnati Convention Center focused on several health topics that disproportionately affect African-Americans, including AIDS, lung cancer, prostate cancer, diabetes, heart disease and stroke.

        For example, the overall U.S. infant mortality rate ranks 16th among 30 industrial nations, Dr. Elders said. For black infants, the U.S. mortality rate ranks 29th of 30. “That means a baby born in Bangladesh has a better chance of survival than one born in the United States,” Dr. Elders said. “Why? How can that be when we have the best of everything?”

        Dr. Elders served as U.S. surgeon general from 1993 to 1995, during the Clinton administration. She resigned under pressure after suggesting that school children should be taught about masturbation.

        Dr. Elders still says much more work needs to be done to improve health education in public schools, especially on sexual issues. She also urged black churches to get more involved in promoting healthy lifestyles. “The vows of abstinence break down far more easily than latex condoms,” Dr. Elders said.

        Not enough people realize that AIDS is the No. 1 cause of death among young black men, yet the problem is totally preventable, she said.

        Dr. Elders also criticized the nation's war on drugs, saying that too many black youth who abuse drugs end up in prison, while white drug abusers are more likely to receive treatment. “We need a whole change of attitude about health. Health is more than the absence of disease,” Dr. Elders said. “It's also about jobs, community, family and church.”

        More than 400 people, including black health care providers, social workers, and others attended the workshop, sponsors said.

        While many of the health problems discussed have been known for years, the Black Client Workshop helps maintain a focus on those issues and helps re-energize people who are working to improve the system, said event co-chairman Vincent Hughes.


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