Collective healthcare advocacy key to better outcomes for Black women

Collective healthcare advocacy key to better outcomes for Black women

By Lincoln DePradine

Dr Zainab Abdurrahman

An appeal has been made for, who have historically faced unique and disproportionate health challenges.

“If you have a trusted community around you, your collective can go further,’’ said Dr Na-Koshie Lamptey, who was a panelist at a virtual townhall organized by the Black Scientists’ Task Force (BSTF) on Vaccine Equity.

The townhall, co-moderated by Lori-Ann Green-Walker, executive director of Women’s Health in Women’s Hands, was titled: “Protecting & Promoting Women’s Health – From Breast Cancer to COVID’’.

Lamptey, deputy medical officer at the City of Toronto, was one of the event’s panelists that also included Canadians Dr Zainab Abdurrahman; Dr Justine Joseph; Dr Mojola Omole; BSTF co-chair Dr Candice Todd; and Baltimore-based author Chimere L. Smith, who contracted the Coronavirus and suffered from “Long COVID’’.

Smith, a former middle school teacher, blamed racial bias in the provision of health services for women, in explaining the difficulty she faced in received her diagnosis and COVID treatment.

She said she visited her emergency department 13 times, “trying to get somebody to believe’’ her and check COVID symptoms, which impacted her sight and hearing.

Chimere L. Smith

Smith, who said she was “honoured’’ to be included on the panel, reported that she did not receive a formal diagnosis for COVID for 18 months.

Panelists shared their expertise and experiences, and also fielded questions from some of the more than 400 people who tuned in online.

Omole, a general surgeon and breast cancer oncologist, said that generally, and “across the board’’, when Black women, such as those living in a heavily racialized community such as Scarborough, are diagnosed with having breast cancer, they’re at a later stage of the disease when compared with other racial groups.

“If you drive 15 minutes on the 401 to North York, most women presented at stage zero or with stage 1 disease. So, vastly different by driving 15 minutes on the highway,’’ she said.

“For anyone who has an interest in Black women’s health, what I would recommend to you is to get involved with any of the advocacy groups. Whether it’s breast cancer, asthma, food allergy, become involved in those patient support groups. All the advocacy we can get, from all the different levels, is important,’’ said Abdurrahman.

“Black women really are the foundation of Black communities. They’re the ones doing so many different things and not always taking time to replenish themselves.’’

The replenishing, added Lamptey, includes “healthy, balanced food’’, adequate sleep and physical activity

“Many of us come from cultures where dance and music are collective experiences; and that gets you to get up and onto your feet and move rhythmically. That is physical activity,’’ she said.  “If it’s dance that moves you, moves with that; if it’s swimming, move with that; whatever you enjoy just do it consistently and you’re probably more likely to do it if you’re doing it with someone.’’

Lack of trust in the healthcare system and medical misinformation, especially from social media, were also cited as negatively impacting healthcare treatment for Black women and other African-Canadians.

Joseph, a registered clinical psychologist, said with the onset of COVID-19, and the stress associated with the pandemic, there has been an increase in the number of people seeking mental health services.