By Allan Bucka Jones
Pride Health Columnist
One of the most important statements made by Toronto’s Mayor Rob Ford is recently when, in reference to his current health status, he suggested that without good health nothing else matters. I have been saying the same thing for years, through my columns, on radio, at events and in one on one discussions with individuals. In the recent Toronto municipal elections, transit was foremost in the candidates’ platforms, and not once did I hear any talk about health. I have said over and over, that if we do not address the serious health concerns of our community, the subways being built will only transport us to medical appointments.
Canada is known worldwide for its multiculturalism, an acceptance that the fabric of Canada depends on the input of many differing ethnicities who live in Canada. The motto of Toronto, Canada’s largest city, is “Diversity Our Strength”. However, I find that the acceptance of diversity in Toronto and Canada, does not extend to healthcare. The treatments Black people receive from medical practitioners and auxiliary organizations that contribute to healthcare, is based on a “one size fits all” approach, which usually is Eurocentric.
In Canada, disease information based on race, is not data that is collected or available. However, there is evidence available from other countries, that shows that Black individuals are affected differently by many diseases and therefore should receive specific messaging and therapies to deal with their unique situation.
Let us look at some of the common illnesses that affect the Black community:
Lupus is a disease in which the body attacks its own healthy tissues and organs. Black women are three times more likely to get lupus than white women. The disease also develops at a younger age and carries more severe symptoms in Black women. Despite this, the Black community is not targeted with specific messages regarding lupus, so many women go untreated or undertreated, with this hard to diagnose, debilitating condition, and may not access agencies that can help.
Sickle Cell Disease affects many ethnicities, but is at a disproportionately higher rate in Black individuals. However, despite the devastating nature of this disease, many still remain unaware of the disease, and still give birth to children with the full blown disease. Also, many medical practitioners, due to lack of knowledge, are unable to properly treat patients who are experiencing a sickle cell problem.
Breast Cancer carries a triple negative category, where growth of the cancer is not supported by hormonal estrogen and progesterone. Black women are three times more likely to develop this type of breast cancer, which is about 10-20% of all breast cancers. It affects women in their early thirties. It is a very aggressive type of cancer, and can lead to death by the mid-thirties. However, there is a great disconnect with the messaging coming from the Canadian Cancer Society in which women are encouraged to do a mammogram when they are in their late forties. By then it is too late for many Black women.
Prostate Cancer is a big problem among middle aged men. Black men have higher rates of this cancer. There is a need for a sustained prostate cancer messaging from the Canadian Cancer Society and other agencies, directed to our community. Men should be constantly encouraged to do the prostate cancer screening tests, and partake in positive lifestyle changes like resorting to anti-cancer diets. Prostate Cancer Canada is becoming more active in our community, supporting promotional efforts directed to Black individuals.
Diabetes is a very devastating disease at epidemic proportions in the Black community. We commend the Canadian Diabetes Association for seeing the need to have an annual Black Diabetes Expo, for the past five years, and supporting the Caribbean Diabetes Chapter founded by diabetes educator Kathy Nelson. Pharmaceutical companies like Janssen should be commended for their support. There is still room for more community activity as we strive to deal with diabetes and pre-diabetes which affect over 9 million Canadians, and the number keeps growing year after year.
Sodium/Salt Content of common foods is a big contributor to high blood pressure, diabetes, kidney disease, stomach cancer and many other illnesses. Our processed food manufacturers and the local Caribbean and African restaurants, should reduce the salt content of their products and meals. Too much salt in our food is literally killing our community.
There are many other situations where it is clear that the “one size fits all” medical approach, is inadequate and inappropriate, and does not work for our community. Now what?
All three levels of government, municipal, provincial and federal, should live up to the diversity focus of Canada, and support initiatives that promote specific health messages to different communities, based on their propensity to be affected by the diseases. This is a fiscally sound approach, as preventative programs will save money by preventing diseases from being manifested totally, or manifested at less devastating levels. We need to be reached where we are, with ethnically appropriate messaging.
Let us get active and engage our politicians and other decision makers in serious dialogue about the approach to our health. A diversity approach to Canadian healthcare is long overdue.
Allan Bucka Jones is a Health Promoter and Broadcaster. He can be heard on “Allan Bucka Jones LIVE”, Sundays from 3 to 5pm on CHRY 105.5 FM, CHRY RADIO App, www.chry.fm option RDO.to , Rogers Digital Cable 945, Bell Fibe 973 or mobile app TuneIn Radio. You can contact Allan Bucka Jones at email@example.com.