by Marilyn Lynk
Close to 26 million children and adults in the U.S. live with diabetes, according to the Centers for Disease, Control and Prevention. That’s more than 8 percent of our population. Another 7 million people live day-to-day, unaware they have the disease. In Maryland, an estimated 9 percent of adults have the disease.
November is American Diabetes Month and offers a chance to reflect upon the millions of Americans affected by diabetes and the impact that this disease has on our population. As a nation, our health-care system is reforming and putting more focus on the management of chronic diseases, such as heart disease and diabetes, in order to reduce spending on health care for our population.
One such measure is the establishment of the Prevention and Public Health Fund under the Affordable Care Act (ACA), which is making it possible for health-care providers to place a priority on prevention and wellness programs and expand access to care for those who need it most.
It’s first important to identify who is most at risk for developing diabetes and other chronic diseases. National statistics show that racial and ethnic minorities have higher rates of chronic diseases than whites. Compared to whites, African Americans and Hispanics are more than twice as likely to have diabetes. Risk factors for diabetes include obesity, age, inactivity and family history.
It has been noted that immigrants experience increased risk of diabetes and diabetes-related health problems in the years after coming to the United States. For example, African immigrants are more likely to develop diabetes compared to U.S.-born citizens and have higher chances of experiencing complications of diabetes such as heart or kidney disease and stroke according to population data from the Mayo Clinic.
The Washington, D.C. region has the second largest African immigrant population in the U.S. This group makes up 11 percent of the total immigrant population. In Montgomery County alone, there are more than 38,000 African-born residents.
Statistics show that these new members of our community are at risk for chronic conditions such as diabetes. Yet, their access to health care services to manage this condition may be limited. As a community, we must do our part to provide equal access to quality health care resources and break down gaps in care that exist due to language and cultural barriers.
With support from the Office of Minority Health Resource Center’s National African Immigrant Project (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services), the Center on Health Disparities, which is part of the Adventist HealthCare system in Rockville, is working with hospitals, local health-care professionals and community partners to help improve health outcomes of African immigrants living with chronic disease in the Washington, D.C. metro area.
Project BEAT IT! (Becoming Empowered Africans Through Improved Treatment of Diabetes, Hepatitis B, and HIV/AIDS) promotes cultural competency among health-care providers and empowers African immigrants to take charge of their health. BEAT IT includes training for healthcare providers that focuses on cultural awareness, effective communication, and patient-centered care when treating African immigrants. The program also provides health education classes to increase knowledge and promote successful disease management among African immigrants living with type 2 diabetes.
Programs like BEAT IT! can help us improve the health of those living in our community by improving access to health-care services. As we work to improve our health-care system, these types of programs will ultimately help make our nation healthier.
To learn more about Project BEAT IT, visit www.AdventistHealthCare.com/HealthDisparities.