This Is National Minority Health Month: Prevention is Power

During Minority Health Month, let us pause to consider the relevance of the theme “Prevention is Power: Taking Action for Health Equity” here in the Virgin Islands. Evidence of racial and ethnic health disparities in the United States is well-documented. Overall the gap in life expectancy between Blacks and non-Hispanic Whites has been closing—it’s now the smallest it has ever been since the statistics have been tracked. Nonetheless, Blacks and Hispanics in the Virgin Islands and throughout the U.S. still disproportionately experience heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and homicide. Overall, Blacks live fewer years when faced with these four outcomes, which are among the leading causes of death in the U.S.
Fortunately, death from heart disease, cancer, diabetes and homicide can be significantly reduced through adopting the following preventive behaviors:
1. Lifestyle changes such as increasing one’s physical activities, eating more vegetables and fruits, eating less starches and sweets, drinking less alcohol, and eliminating tobacco use will reduce the risk for heart disease, cancer and diabetes.
2. Early detection and diagnosis gives one the power to take action before a condition becomes advanced and less responsive to treatment. It is important for each of us to make a personal commitment to pay attention to our body, and go for regular health check-ups.
Women: get your Pap smears, mammograms, and do self-breast exams each month. Men: get your prostate exam, and self-examine your testes each month. Performing these rituals can save your life because you will have become familiar with your body, and will notice any change that should be investigated.
3. Here in the Virgin Islands, we have a high incidence of homicides and partner abuse/violence. Thus, it is important for our community leaders and policymakers to create and promote programs where people can develop negotiation and anger management skills. This can defuse situations before they become violent, and lead to healthier relationships for us all.
It is critical that we join together to raise awareness about these health disparities and the importance of preventive health behaviors, which is why leaders from the Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, New York and New Jersey have convened the Region II Health Equity Council (RHEC II). We are one of ten such councils across the United States and its territories working towards the goals of the National Partnership for Action to End Health Disparities (NPA), which at their root are focused on increasing awareness of the significance of health inequities, and improving health outcomes for all minority groups.
The members of RHEC II are committed to working collaboratively with the government and community groups to eliminate existing health inequities. In the Virgin Islands, we lack complete and reliable health data that can inform providers, researchers, and policymakers in planning appropriate health services. RHEC II has begun addressing this issue last summer by supporting an intern at the UVI Caribbean Exploratory Research Center on Health Disparities to gather information on health data gaps in the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico. These facts and statistics are being compiled into a regional blueprint for action, which will guide the council’s work moving forward.
RHEC II will continue identifying and implementing strategies to improve health outcomes in our community, during Minority Health Month and beyond. We encourage all people to join the cause, take charge of their health and embrace the fact that “Prevention is Power.” Let us all take action for health equity!
Editor’s note: Dr. Gloria Callwood is currently serving as the co-chair of the Regional Health Equity Council for Region II (RHEC II), and Gwendolyn T. Powell serves as co-chair emeritus. Callwood is the PI and director of the Caribbean Exploratory Research Center, UVI, School of Nursing. Powell is the executive director of Work-Able Inc. on St. Thomas.

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