Sunday, November 21, 2010

The Office of Majority Health

I typically find Glen Beck to be unwatchable. I don't think he's usually worth the effort to be offended. But I found this clip to be so overtly racist that I couldn't help but wonder how he gets away with what he does.

Mostly I was interested because he specifically calls out the Office of Minority Health(OMH) for committing all sorts of evil against white people. And he seems to really have a problem with Doritos, as seen around 3:10.

After an initial rant about Obama and reparations, Beck introduces his guest, Linda Chavez, and the conversation turns to talk of Obama settling "old racial scores" and racial "preferences" within the administration's policies.

The two talk about OMH's supposed conspiracy to prove that minorities receive inferior health care than whites. Beck throws up air quotes when saying OMH wants to "nudge the system into a more 'fair' system of health care." Does he not believe that is what OMH is meant to do? Or does he not believe that a fair system would be one in which all Americans receive equal health care?

Chavez really gets me around 3:30 when she says: "A lot of our unequal health outcomes have to do with not just income but behavior... they're going to try to turn this into a race issue." During which Beck is also complaining simultaneously that "There is no Office of Majority Health."

Chavez is not a nurse, doctor, public health professional, epidemiologist. She's not even a dental hygienist. For what reason would she be invited to talk about health disparities, the causes of obesity and medical school admissions on the Glen Beck variety show? Because she knows how to spread racial angst to white people almost better than Beck himself.

Let's look at OMH's explanation for its own existence:

Why we were established

Poor health outcomes for African Americans, Hispanic Americans, American Indians and Alaska Natives, Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians, and Pacific Islanders are apparent when comparing their health indicators against those of the rest of the U.S. population. These populations experience higher rates of illness and death from health conditions such as heart disease, stroke, specific cancers, diabetes, HIV/AIDS, asthma, hepatitis B, and overweight and obesity. OMH's primary responsibility is to improve health and health care outcomes for racial and ethnic minority communities by developing or advancing policies, programs, and practices that address health, social, economic, environmental and other factors which impact health.

Let's think about the Beck/Chavez explanation of obesity among minorities. Beck says it's that they must eat more Doritos than everyone else and that they should just stop. Chavez says it's really about individual behaviors or "what people do to themselves" and that OMH is making it a race issue.

If only health were as simple as the individual decisions we make for ourselves. As with all public health issues, obesity is extremely complex and related to factors that reach far beyond an individual's decision to eat Doritos instead of an apple. While it may seem intuitive that human adults should have the ultimate control over what we put into our mouths, you cannot ignore that environmental conditions and policy makers often have much more control over which foods find their way to our tables. Processed food is cheaper than fresh food. Major supermarkets do not open stores in low-income neighborhoods. Schools cut back physical education programs as they also down-grade the quality of food they feed our children. Beck and Chavez are happy to ignore these truths and blame poor health on the individual instead of the system that is proven to influence health outcomes.

Beck complains that there is no Office of Majority Health. This, of course, is not true. If the US Department of Health and Human Services had always had the best interest of all Americans in mind, the US would not have the embarrassing health statistics it has now. But, as an arm of a government with a racist past, how could this organization have been anything but an Office of Majority Health? All government institutions were once run by and for the exclusive benefit of white men.

Maybe one day the OMH will no longer be necessary. But currently African American infants die at a rate twice that of white infants. Would Linda Chavez blame this horrifying statistic purely on the behavior of African American mothers? I have a feeling she would.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Reproductive Life Planning

50% of all pregancies in America are unplanned. In an age with so many contraceptive choices, how is this happening? Here is one example of what a reproductive life plan might look like. Produced by the Office of Minority Health, it is meant to get people of reproductive age to stop and think about what their goals for parenthood really are.

Do You Want Children?
Yes, then When? How many? What conditions need to be right?
No, then how are you avoiding pregnancy?

On the back, it asks you to put in writing what your plans are. Of course the plan can change at any moment. Both women and men should be aware of their partner's plan - though no one can force the other to change their own. For example, a man should not force his female partner to take oral contraceptive, but if he doesn't want to become a father and she doesn't want to be on the pill, he should use a condom or abstain from sex. Men shouldn't just leave decisions about contraception to women. They should play an active role in their own sexual health.

It may seem obvious to prepare yourself for parenthood, but clearly not enough couples are following through. This is a great preconception activity, especially for young people.

* In my presentation on STIs and Pregnancy, I emphasized that plans for avoiding STIs and Pregnancy can overlap sometimes but not always. When refering to the A,B,C method of prevention, A(bstinence) and C(ondoms) can work to avoid both STIs and Pregnancy. But the B is more tricky. (B)eing Faithful to your partner can work to avoid STIs, but not pregnancy. And (B)irth Control including oral contraceptives, IUDs and spermicidal jellies will help against pregnancy, but not against STIs.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Autumn in New York

I was invited by OMH to give my PPE STIs and Pregnancy presentation at a training at Hunter College. Tyree and I made the most of the trip and went to the Met, the Guggenheim, Central Park and saw some friends. The weather was beautiful. I liked the city more this time than at any other time in my life. (There are more pictures of me than of Tyree, because he won't let me take pictures of him.)

Me, in front of Hunter College, where I gave my presentation.

Our cute hotel room.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Mulemba Xangola

In just a few weeks, Tyree and I are moving to Angola. We expect to be there around two years. We are very excited.

I'm posting these maps first so that everyone is clear on where we're going. Just to be especially clear, we are going to Angola the country, not Angola the prison in Louisiana. (There was some confusion about this as we were leaving New Orleans!) We will be living primarily in Luanda, the capital.

Some brief details: The national language in Angola is Portuguese and there are about 30 different African languages spoken, corresponding with the 30 or so different ethnics groups. Angola was a Portuguese colony from the 1500's until 1975. Angolans, like Mozambicans, had to fight for their independence. After independence there was a civil war between the MPLA on the left and UNITA on the right. Actually, the civil war was much more complicated than that, but that's all I can explain for now.

The war ended in 2002 and Angola is now going through a period of reconstruction. It is oil and diamond country, which has the strange affect of making Luanda the most expensive cities in the world, in a country with one of the worst infant mortality rates among all nations.

We are very excited about our move. I will be posting all Angola-related posts on my other blog: Sem Conteção, which I started several years ago with the hope that I might return to Africa one day.