Race. Inequality. Disparities in health care. Say any of those words during a social situation and you are likely to be met with discomfort and empty stares.
That's because they are difficult issues — things few of us have answers for, so we tend to sweep them under the rug. Yet we need to talk about them because behind these difficult issues are real people.
Christopher Sistrunk, Ph.D.
Take the time to talk and you find that health care disparity is about more than the binary issues we tend to consider and debate over and over — rich versus poor, insured versus uninsured, access to healthy foods versus a lack thereof.
Woven into these disparities — especially as they relate to cancer and diabetes — are complex and deeply entrenched issues in communities, among them inordinate stress, language barriers and conditions that seem endemic to certain populations — for instance, stomach cancer
among Asians and Hispanics, triple negative breast cancer
among African-American women, and a lack of trust in doctors and health systems.
“You’ve got to remember, we’re not even a full generation removed from Tuskegee,” said Christopher Sistrunk, Ph.D., referring to the Tuskegee Syphilis Study
, in which researchers withheld penicillin from African-American men with syphilis in order to track progression of the disease. “For an African-American man, you might have had your father telling you about it. You might have heard from others in your community about how black men were used in these experiments.
“So yes, they’re going to be hesitant. Yes, there’s going to be mistrust.”
Mona Jung, featured in the series, was diagnosed with stomach cancer
City of Hope is dedicating every day in April, National Minority Health Month
, to examining these important issues. One month is not nearly enough time to peel back the many layers behind them, but a time to start a conversation — because the issues are that important, and finding solutions is a matter of life and death.
During this month, we will examine issues as diverse as:
Stresses swirling around certain communities — economic, racial and physiologic
Conditions, such as obesity, that are more likely to strike certain communities, increasing the risk of cancer and diabetes.
Issues like “machismo,” stigma and outright avoidance in certain communities when it comes to screening for, and discussing, health issues
How environment and exposures figure into cancer and diabetes risk
The lack of minority donors in the bone marrow donor registry
A serious lack of trust among minority communities when it comes to the health care system
“Just going into the community and knowing that mistrust exists — and why it exists — is very helpful,” said Mayra Serrano, M.P.H., C.H.E.S., manager of the Center of Community Alliance for Research & Education (CCARE)
. “By starting at a place of mutual understanding, you can begin to address individual misgivings.”
Noe Chavez, Ph.D.
Our experts say addressing problems plaguing various communities begins with inclusive, informed and culturally sensitive interactions.
“How do you connect with communities?” said Noe Chavez, Ph.D., a community psychologist with City of Hope. “Make sure you look like them. Make sure you speak their language and understand their background. Find something that resonates with them.”
Flowing through all of this is a lesson about the need to open up. The need to rethink how we speak to and regard one another — starting a conversation and finding solutions.
Join us this month to learn more.
Stories of Hope is a monthly series that explores important issues in health care. To commemorate National Minority Health Month, we are dedicating the entire month of April to health care disparities.