Filed Under:  Health & Wellness, Letter to the Editor, Opinion

National Minority Health Month

15th April 2014   ·   0 Comments

April is National Minority Health Month, an opportunity for us to take care of ourselves, our health, and our community.

Health disparities in the African-American community and communities of color remain a serious issue in this country, and in New Orleans. Our communities are deeply impacted by the overwhelming lack of access to health care and health education services.

Take a look at Louisiana: The unintended pregnancy rate is a whopping 58 percent. Louisiana’s teen birth rate is higher than the national average. Louisiana ranks in the top three for rates of infection for Chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis. And New Orleans has the third highest rate for new HIV diagnoses in the nation. Baton Rouge is second.

Louisiana ranks high in cancer cases as well. Last year about 60 Louisianans a day received a cancer diagnosis. Despite recent decreases, the combined mortality rate for Louisianans with cancer is about 30 percent higher than the national average. In fact, Louisiana has the sixth-highest rate of cervical cancer deaths in the country. African-American women are twice as likely to lose their lives to cervical cancer as white women. And among women diagnosed with breast cancer, African-American women are most likely to die from the disease.

I’ve been practicing as an OB-GYN in New Orleans for 30 years and I’ve seen what happens when women don’t have the information they need to stay healthy and when getting a well woman exam is financially out of reach. Across the country, minority communities have some of the greatest needs for preventive health care — like lifesaving cancer screenings, testing and treatment for STDs, Pap tests, and health education.

It is time for Louisiana to take a greater interest in the overall health status of our community. Doctors and organizations like NO/AIDS Task Force, American Cancer Society, Baptist Community Ministries, Planned Parenthood and Unity of Greater New Orleans are working together to make sure our communities have access to a quality provider and get the information they need to lead healthier lives.

But each of us has to do our part to improve our personal health. Here are a few suggestions: Eat a little less and take a few extra steps. Quit smoking. Know your HIV status. For women, schedule a well woman exam for a breast exam and a Pap test. Men, get your prostate checked. If you are over 50, get your colon checked.

I know all of these statistics paint a bleak picture of the current state of health in our communities, but all isn’t lost. National Minority Health Month is a time for all of us to renew our commitment to the fight for the healthiest generation. While our nation has done much to advance health care outcomes for women, men and families in the past few years, we know that there is more work to be done — especially within the minority communities. It will not get done until we all focus and commit to change it. Real change starts from within ourselves. If we could do these things, it would make a difference in the overall health of our community.

– Kevin Stephens, M.D.

This article originally published in the April 14, 2014 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.

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