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Fixing tomorrow by facing today

The health of future generations was discussed on Friday as the last keynote speaker of the Black Child and Family conference, former U.S. Surgeon General David Satcher, spoke in front of more than 350 people.

Satcher, who served as 16th Surgeon General of the United States from 1998-2002, is acting interim president of the Morehouse School of Medicine. He has gained much renown for leading the effort to eliminate racial disparities in health through the Healthy People 2010 initiative.

During the luncheon, Tampa Mayor Pam Iorio, the honorary chair of the conference, espoused the significance of the event.

“I think this conference is very important. It gives us an opportunity to discuss issues that are important to the African-American community; an opportunity for more in-depth dialogue on issues. It’s very important and I am very supportive. Dr. Satcher will have an interesting presentation on health issues and the African-American family,” said Iorio.

Satcher’s presentation, “Addressing the Health Gap,” focused on the challenges of health disparities amongst the black community and the future health of the black community.

“The future can be different, but in order for it to be different we’ve got to confront the present. We’ve got to confront history; we’ve got to confront what we’re facing today. And that’s the goal of eliminating disparities in health. It’s about confronting the present, as dire as it may be, in order to shape a better future, especially for our children,” said Satcher.

He went on further to express his dismay with statistics, revealing that health disparities between blacks and other racial groups are conspicuously different.

According to data gathered from the U.S. National Center of Health, blacks have disproportionately high instances of infant mortality, hypertension and tuberculosis, among other illnesses.

“One of the things that is really bothering me is that so many of our children are being exposed to toxins in their physical environment. But it doesn’t end there,” he said. “Our social environment is really critical. What kind of messages do we send our children through our social environment in which our children live and develop? Is the message hope or hopelessness? A child with hope can fly, so environment makes a difference,” he said, asserting that the community and parents share responsibility for social and physical environments.

Satcher explained that social and physical environments, lifestyle and access to quality health care are factors that contribute to a child’s health. Due to socioeconomic status, according to Satcher, black and Hispanic children are more likely to be exposed to unhealthy environments and to have poor access to health care compared to children of other racial groups.

“Access to quality health care is really important,” he said. “We are not going to eliminate the disparities in health just by improving the health care system. We’ve got to have the right policies, and some of our policies are really problematic. Like the policies that lead to 45 million people being uninsured in this country and a lot of children being unable to get access to critical care like immunization and dental care.”

Satcher presented an outline of initiatives from Healthy People 2010, a set of long-term health goals for the nation that originated from a similarly named 1979 Surgeon General’s report that outlined five health targets to be met within a 10-year period. In 1999, the goal of eliminating health disparities amongst blacks and all minority groups was included in the report.

In order to reach the goal outlined in Healthy People 2010, Satcher explained that parents and communities would have to become more involved in providing healthier environments, more parent-child bonding must occur, there must be more health professionals and scientists of color as well as an improved quality of lifestyle and health care policies in order to provide more people with health insurance.

Satcher asserted that despite the enormity of the work it would take to reverse the gap in disparities, he is optimistic.

“I say to you no one can go back and make a brand new start — you can’t go back. But anybody can start from now and make a brand new ending.”