Everybody worries about getting sick. Those who do not are themselves likely to have health issues which they may not be aware of, because it is natural to seek to keep health good and therefore preserve life.
Whether we aim to keep health good or to make it good – more of us are becoming health conscious and willing to do something about it. That is true even if the action is short-lived. (Just attend any gym during January and then March of the same year to see this in action!). In this article, the aim is to overview the broad problem of health in individuals of African origin and follow this later with a more detailed look at individual diseases, how they affect us and what we can do to address how they affect us.
Despite the trend of improved health awareness outlined above, disparities persist when comparing the health outcomes of those of African origin and others in regard to certain health conditions. In particular, and for multiple reasons, the following conditions affect people of African origin disproportionately:
1. Cardiovascular disease (which includes hypertension, heart attacks, heart failure).
2. Cerebrovascular disease (which includes strokes, transient ischaemic attacks – TIA – or mini-stroke).
3. Diabetes (which is closely linked to the above).
6. Cancer in general but specifically:
a. Lung cancer and
b. Prostate cancer.
There are other health issues affecting African Caribbeans, which Trudy Simpson illustrated quite well in a 2011 Voice article and include systematic lupus erythematosus (lupus), sickle cell anaemia, mental health, diabetes, HIV infection, leukaemia and associated bone marrow donation. These will be addressed in later articles.
Along with the above bad news is the good news that the power to improve our health outcomes does, to a degree, lie within the grasp of the African diaspora. The strategies and tactics may simply include simple measures such as self‑education about these conditions and developing an understanding of the options for treatment.
How can I say that? Well, it is becoming clear that some health issues that affect people of the African diaspora are more to do with factors such as level of education and socioeconomics rather than race, per se.
What do I mean? Well, put simplistically, it is well known in medicine that people who are poor tend to have the worst health.
As an example, let us take lung cancer. Poor people are disproportionally affected by this condition. They are more likely to have little education, are more likely to be manual labourers, often have economic stress factors with associated higher levels of stress which often lead to unhealthy pastimes such as cigarette smoking. Despite years of health education in the media warning of cancer risk from smoking, very often smoking continues in this group with inevitable consequences.
People of the African diaspora, for various reasons, and despite economic progress in this group, often fall into this category. So, their health outcomes are not primarily because of their ethnicity but because of their socioeconomic circumstances. If the latter could be change or the effects of their circumstances mitigated, then in theory the health outcomes could change. The challenge is finding a way to do this.
The situation of lung cancer from smoking contrasts with that of a condition such as hypertension – common in those of African origin. Those who have hypertension (specifically the type called essential hypertension), have a genetic makeup that results in higher than average blood pressure.