THE DANGER IN BEING BLACK

“I have a dream where my four little children will be judged by the content of their character and not by the colour of their skin”. This statement by Dr Martin Luther King (Jnr.) brought him fame and laurels from fellow blacks and freedom fighters alike across the world.

If this statement is viewed from a medical perspective, one won’t be surprised that there are lots of deadly diseases that strike Blacks harder and more often than they do to other groups, especially whites.

Interestingly, fighting back means genetic research. It means changing the system for testing new drugs. It means improving health education. It means overcoming disparities in health care. It means investments targeted to the health of black. And the evidence so far indicates that these investments will pay health dividends not just for racial minorities, but for everyone.

Statistically, the differences are so wide that you began to ask, what exactly is wrong with the black race? Looking at the very few and common diseases affecting the blacks in comparism with the whites, leaves us with so much to be desired.

  1. Blacks and Diabetes : 60% more common in Blacks than in whites. Blacks are up to 2.5 times more likely to suffer a limb amputation and up to 5.6 times more likely to suffer kidney disease than other people with diabetes. In addition, Blacks with diabetes have more serious complications — such as loss of vision, loss of limbs, and kidney failure — than whites. The principle is that maybe it is access to health care, or maybe a cultural fatalism.

There is, indeed, proves that Blacks may have a genetic susceptibility to diabetes. Even so, the real problem is empowering patients to keep their diabetes under control, since patients often have the sense that they are not as much in charge of managing their diabetes as their doctor. It’s easy to say people with diabetes should learn how to control their disease. But the tools for this kind of self-empowerment often aren’t available in Black neighborhoods.

  1. Blacks and Sickle Cell Anemia:  It’s a common phenomenon probably to know that sickle cell anemia affects Blacks far more than it does whites.

This, clearly, is a genetic disease that has little to do with the environment. Yet even here — with a killer disease — social and political issues come into play. It will be noted that the cause of sickle cell anemia has been known since the 1950s. But for many generations, sickle cell anemia has not had the funding and research attention it deserves. This is a shame on the medical research arm of our nation.

  1. Asthma: Blacks are three times more likely to die of asthma than whites.
  2. Lung Cancer: Despite lower tobacco exposure, Black men are 50% more likely than white men to get lung cancer.
  3. Strokes: Strokes kill 4 times more 35- to 54-year-old Black than white. Blacks have nearly twice the first-time stroke risk of whites.
  4. High Blood Pressure: Blacks develop high blood pressure earlier in life — and with much higher blood pressure levels — than whites. Nearly 42% of Black men and more than 45% of Black women aged 20 and older have high blood pressure.
  5. Cancer: Cancer treatment is equally successful for all races. Yet Black men have a 40% higher cancer death rate than white men. African American women have a 20% higher cancer death rate than white women

One will wonder however that, why the disparity? An associate Dean of Clinical Affairs and Medical Director for Heart Failure/Transplant at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Centre, Clyde W. Yancy, said “genes definitely play a role. So does the environment in which people live, socioeconomic status and racism. He further stated that, all humans have same physiology, are vulnerable to the same illness, and respond to the same medicines. Naturally, diseases and responses to treatment do vary from person to person, but he says, there are unique issues that affect blacks.

Instructively, it should be realized that the health of blacks is not racial issue, but a human issue. Hence, respective governments should endevour to invest in research and health of the people as a whole. So that at the end of the day, all of us will acknowledge that race is a very poor physiological construct, a placeholder for something else. That something is less likely to be genetic. It is more likely to have to do with socioeconomics and political issues of bias as well as physiologic and genetic issues that go into that same bucket. Some racial differences are more nuances. But there are issues of disparity and there are issues relative to racism that operate in a very broad context