“We must find ways for African Americans and other minorities to access quality healthcare and improve their health outcomes in a medical system that continues to neglect minorities in every aspect of healthcare, from research through end-of-life care,” state Sen. Curren Price told a recent all-day Healthy Lifestyles Initiative Conference at the California Science Center in Exposition Park.

The California Legislative Black Caucus, in collaboration with Kaiser Permanente and Healthy African American Families, hosted the conference in Los Angeles on April 29.

The event was chaired by state Sen. Price.

Speaking to a diverse crowd that included physicians, surgeons, nurses, therapists, healthcare workers, heads of charity organizations and others, Price addressed specific health disparities within African American communities such as the high rates of heart disease, stroke, cancer, infant mortality, diabetes and AIDS.

Price also expressed his concern that “African Americans are overrepresented among the uninsured and under-insured.” He did, however, express hope that these disparities would decline as a result of the new Obama healthcare initiative, which will potentially provide healthcare coverage for 8.5 million African Americans.

Numerous healthcare professionals and healthcare advocates provided presentations addressing different aspects of African American health disparities.

Professor Paul Robinson of Charles Drew Medical Center explained the relationship to one’s health depending on where one lives: “The use of territory as a way to allow or not provide (healthcare) access has a long history,” he said.

He cited statistics that show South Los Angeles residents are experiencing huge numbers of preventable diseases. He also discussed the lack of grocery stores that provide healthy foods, and the high number of fast-food restaurants that contribute to the high rates of obesity in the area.
Dr. Richard Williams, founder of the Association of Black Cardiologists and president of the Minority Health Institute Inc., provided a slide show that was a hard-hitting look-back at the history of healthcare disparities and the lack of adequate treatment provided to African Americans throughout history.

Alarming statistics were provided showing African American health disparities such as a 2.5 times greater incidence of infant mortality than Whites. African American women are 18 times more likely to be diagnosed with HIV and 10 times more likely to die of breast cancer. African American men are two times more likely to develop prostate cancer.

According to Dr. David Carlisle, director of the Office of Statewide Health Planning and Development (OSHPD), it is estimated that 886,000 African Americans died during 1991-2000 of preventable diseases had “equal healthcare been available.”

Carlisle also explained that of the 16 health conditions in OSHPD’s recent study, African Americans suffer the highest rates in 14 of those conditions. Carlisle also provided alarming statistics on a local level, saying that South Los Angeles “had the highest preventable hospitalization rates,” and that there is a “250 percent difference of complications from long-term diabetes than [in] any other region.”

The conference also included three panels to discuss and answer questions. Panel 1 was moderated by Assembly member Mike Davis, which discussed health disparities and its remedies. The panel included Professor Robinson, Dr. Roberto Vargas of the Rand Corp. and Laura Hardcastle of the Office of Multicultural Health.

Panel 2 discussed why African Americans are experiencing high rates in chronic diseases. The panel was moderated by Sen. Price and included Dr. Keith Norris and Dr. David Martins of Charles Drew University.

Martins caught the attention of the crowd when he expressed his theory as to why African Americans suffer high rates of hypertension. Discussing the displacement of slaves into America, Martins said: “There was no salt in their diets when they lived in Africa and our genes were conditioned for life on that continent.” This statement prompted numerous questions from the crowd.

Panel 3 discussed how community programs can reduce health disparities. The panel included Cynthia Davis of Charles Drew University’s HIV/AIDS Education and Outreach Projects, the Rev. William Campbell of Mount Gilead Missionary Baptist Church, Jennifer Hopson of the American Heart Association, Darcel Harris of the California Black Health Network, and Dr. Denise Hinds of the African American Health Institute.

The conference was one of education, hard-hitting imagery, empowerment and solutions to remedy the ongoing problem of African American health disparities.