Institutionalized racism is keeping black Americans sick

Dr. Ifeanyi McWilliams Nsofor | May 15, 2019

“It is decades of institutional racism that exposed African Americans to many health inequities that have led to the current crisis,” states Dr. Ifeanyi Nsofor, our 2018 New Voices Fellow in a piece for The Hill, as he notes that the leading causes of deaths among African Americans nationally are heart disease, cancer and stroke. With about 40.5 percent and 44 percent of African American men and women aged 20 years and above respectively diagnosed with high blood pressure between 2013-2016 – these figures underscore the fact that noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) disproportionately affect African Americans.

“As a Nigerian doctor, these numbers surprise me”, writes Dr. Nsofor bringing to light the comparative rates of high blood pressure among Nigerian men and women are 30.7 percent and 25.2 percent respectively. He notes that while many of his patients come from economic backgrounds that “are poorer than their African American counterparts”, something that they have “not had to grapple with is institutionalized racism”.

To reverse “this ugly trend” and ensure African Americans enjoy better healthcare, Dr. Nsofor recommends three key shifts in our policy and thinking. From publicly financed health system and African American community groups taking on the role of  “their brothers’ and sisters’ keepers” to looking at religion and black churches as a means to disseminate information about health and well-being. “Imagine the impact that could be achieved if once a week, messages on preventing high blood pressure were preached from pulpits in these churches”, he further writes.

Ultimately, Dr. Nsofor acknowledges that closing the gap on the health disparities faced by African Americans will not be easy, however, steps need to be taken to ensure no African American should die prematurely from a preventable disease in the world’s wealthiest nation.

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