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Positive steps forward

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Positive steps forward
“This is what I always go by.”

Positive steps forward

Times have changed. The medical information taught in high school health education classes years ago is now obsolete. There has been a quantum jump in medical science in recent years.

Gardasil, the first vaccine to protect against cancer, is 75 percent effective against cervical cancer. A pharmaceutical cocktail has been developed to extend the life of HIV victims into their senior citizen years.

There has also been technological innovation. While X-rays have long revealed problems with bones, now CT scans and MRIs disclose irregularities within soft tissue. Lasers and nuclear isotopes enable surgeons to penetrate formerly inaccessible parts of the body. Robotic surgery facilitates less invasive procedures that hasten recovery and lessen pain.

Medical advances have been so extensive and so frequent that few people, regardless of their level of education, have been able to remain health literate. This state of affairs was especially damaging to African Americans and Latinos who experience health disparities in several areas.

In order to provide more cogent health information, the Banner publishes “Be Healthy,” a four page monthly supplement. Each issue covers in layman’s language an important medical or health subject. In addition to a practitioner’s discussion, there is always an account of a person coping with the problem.

The primary objective of “Be Healthy” is to empower the layman to take command of his or her own health care. This cannot happen without a clear understanding of health and medical issues.

The Health of Boston Report for 2010 that was released this month by Mayor Menino and the Boston Public Health Commission indicates that while racial health disparities continue to exist, there are some promising signs. In 2008, 80 percent of black women 40 and older reported having mammograms. Only 69 percent of white women in the same age group did so. Also, black women in every income bracket are more inclined than white women in the same bracket to have a Pap test.

Black men 45 and older and white men 50 and older report about the same percentage having had a prostate-specific antigen test (PSA) in the past year. In 2008, 67 percent of Boston adults 50 and older had a colonoscopy in the past five years. The percentage for Roxbury residents was 70 percent.

It appears that black men and women are now striving for better health outcomes. According to the Institute of Medicine, health literacy is an important element of being successful in that quest. A report of April 8, 2004, entitled “Health Literacy: A Prescription to End Confusion,” defines health literacy as “the degree to which individuals have the capacity to obtain, process and understand basic information and services needed to make appropriate health decisions.”

“Be Healthy” has played a significant role in elevating the level of health literacy among African Americans in Boston. Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts has shared that vision and serves as the anchor sponsor of the publication. Even with Blue Cross Blue Shield’s generous support, other co-sponsors are necessary to continue regular monthly publication.

Much of racial health disparities result from poverty, genetics, pre-existing conditions and unhealthy lifestyles. Nonetheless, African Americans are trying to improve their health status. It would be unfortunate to deprive them of the information needed to succeed.