At a two-day health summit in Toronto last weekend, African-Canadian health care practitioners, business leaders and other stakeholders took the first step towards creating a provincial Black Health Network (BHN) by laying the groundwork to address the serious health risks Blacks face.
In Ontario, Blacks are three times more likely than Whites to develop high blood pressure; Black women have a higher prevalence of obesity, diabetes, hypertension and heart disease than their male counterparts; strokes occur at an earlier age among Blacks compared to other ethnic groups and nearly 11.1 per cent of Blacks report having two or more major risk factors for cardiovascular disease.
“Our community has been suffering disproportionately in the areas of mental health, diabetes, chronic diseases and depression,” said Black Health Alliance chair Dr. Christopher Morgan. “Over the years, we have not seen the changes needed to alleviate the health concerns our community faces.
“What we are doing here is attempting to bring the different stakeholders from across the province to communicate, co-operate and collaborate and come up with a strategy whereby we can identify what are some of the health priorities in the community and how we are going to secure funding or research to look into those areas and also how we are going to influence public health policy…We have a health crisis in the Black community and this is the first step to bring our collective knowledge and experience together to agree on a common goal moving forward.”
The Heart & Stroke Foundation of Ontario played a key role in facilitating the historic summit.
“What we are doing here is trying to address the issue of Black health from the leadership perspective in the community,” said the foundation’s Community Mission specialist, Richard Phillips. “We brought the leaders together to examine the issues that appear to be important and to start this dialogue between us about what we can do to address the symptoms. Some may argue that Blacks have the same access as anyone else to our health care system and there might not be a need to have the discussions. These people fail to realize that there are systems that favour the majority over Blacks and other minorities.”
A past president of the Windsor & District Black Coalition, Phillips conceived the idea for the development of a BHN.
“My formation of what we have going on today however came from the inclusion of many people over the last five years,” he said. “When I go out and talk to people in my current role with the Heart & Stroke Foundation, I find they have a lot more in common than they have that is different. What they really have in common is that they don’t have an answer on how they can help each other to address these issues.
“So it became apparent that the stakeholders be brought together and it should be made clear it’s time to work together as a community addressing the needs of multiple communities because the Black community is not homogenous. We have many different variations in that community with different needs.”
A follow-up summit is planned for November in Windsor where strategies will be discussed on how to work with the newly-elected provincial government. Elections in Ontario take place on October 6.
The BHN is set to be launched next May at a conference that will examine the progress on community outreach, resource development and support for the Black community.
Ontario Minister of Health Promotion & Sport, Margarett Best, praised the organizers for having the vision to convene the summit.
“I am confident that your efforts will further the health promotion agenda in Ontario,” she said. “Undoubtedly, it will inform us and identify how we can work together in a cross-sectoral manner to improve health outcomes in the African-Canadian community, with people living longer, healthier and more active lives.
“Our government’s view is that strong, healthy communities are at the heart of a strong Ontario….We, however, need all hands on deck as each and every one of us has a part to play in improving health outcomes for African-Canadians…
“As Ontarians and community leaders, I applaud your efforts in advocating for better health for people of African descent. Cross collaborative efforts are essential in fighting the battle against chronic diseases.”