Black health needs to become a priority

TheStar.com – Opinion/Commentary – If Canada is serious about acknowledging the contributions that have been made by people of African and Caribbean ancestry, a good starting point would be to address the health-related issues that predominantly impact black Canadians.
Feb. 28, 2017.   By DALON P. TAYLOR

Each February, public and private organizations engage in a flurry of activities to celebrate Black History Month. They seek to recognize the accomplishments and contributions that individuals of African and Caribbean ancestry have made to Canada.

It’s an earnest, if inconsistent, effort to recognize the important role black Canadians play in our society. But on what month will we take a moment to consider the health of black Canadians, which too often goes undetected and unacknowledged in our health system?

Why should we need to consider Black health in particular? Consider these facts:

– The rates of diabetes are highest among blacks and South Asians with more than 8.5 per cent affected compared to approximately 4.2 per cent among whites.
– Close to 110,000 black individuals in Ontario alone were identified as sickle cell carriers with more than 60 newborns identified with full blown sickle cell disease annually.
– Black communities are disproportionately affected by health-related issues such as mental health, HIV/AIDS, heart disease, sickle cell, stroke and hypertension. But they have yet to be adequately addressed effectively within the Canadian health-care system.
These all create an enormous burden on our health-care system, which can be greatly reduced with effective solutions.

The reasons why black Canadians face significantly disproportionate health prospects are complex and not fully explored. Certainly, we know that social determinants of health, which includes education, housing, employment and poverty, as well as racism and violence, are taking a toll on the health of black communities across Canada.

A vast array of research distinctly connects disparities in poor health with the experiences of prejudice and discrimination that individuals from marginalized and racialized populations encounter. Research also shows that negative interactions based on race leads to distrust in both the health-care systems and toward health-care providers.

By ignoring how these factors limit black health, we only perpetuate the racism that the heroes we celebrate during Black History Month sought to end. If Canada is serious about acknowledging the contributions that have been made by people of African and Caribbean ancestry, a good starting point would be to address the health-related issues that predominantly impact black Canadians.

For politicians and policy-makers, that would mean implementing relevant and “targeted” approaches in the health-care sector at all levels of government to address the health disparities and increase access to specific health services for blacks in Canada.

This includes creating a tool to measure equity within our current health-care system. Additionally, policy-makers need to recognize that racism and violence along with the social determinants of health play a role in the health outcomes of black communities in Canada. As such, specific measures should be developed to address these barriers to health.

It is also crucial for politicians and policy-makers to work with black communities and organizations to develop solutions that are relevant and meaningful to black communities. Part of this process must include investment in research to better understand the health issues that affect black Canadians so effective measures can be identified and acted upon.

Politicians must support the implementation of a black health strategy within the health-care system that outlines approaches to responding to the gaps within the system and commitment to take serious action.

For black communities, we need to work together to ensure decision makers are held accountable. Our votes are a significant tool to ensure our voices are heard. We need to rally communities to use our votes effectively and strategically. If politicians aren’t hearing us, we need to pool our votes and support candidates who will listen and respond.

We also need to support each other in creating clear and consistent messages on the challenges and barriers we face, and how they can be overcome. We should not stop short of anything but equitable access to health care, education, housing and all the other social determinants of health that we should have access to as human beings, regardless of our race.

It is time for all of us to take meaningful steps and concrete actions to give back to black Canadian communities. The blood, sweat and tears that our ancestors have poured into building this country, and the contributions that racialized immigrants continue to make, require acknowledgement in the present. A good starting point would be towards our health. So let’s not wait to find another month Canada; let’s start now.

Dalon P. Taylor is president of the Black Health Alliance and a PhD candidate at York University.

https://www.thestar.com/opinion/commentary/2017/02/28/black-health-needs-to-become-a-priority.html

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