By Dr. CHRISTOPHER J. MORGAN
Not only is heart disease and stroke a major cause of death for Canadians, it is raging havoc in the Black community. So much so that it has caught the attention of the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Ontario (HSFO). Over the last several years, as president of the Black Health Alliance, I have had the opportunity to work with Richard Phillips, Community Missions Specialist for the HSFO, in creating efforts to increase awareness of heart disease and stroke in the Black community. I thought I would touch base with Richard regarding the activities and future directions of HSFO.
1. What is the mandate of the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Ontario (HSFO)?
The Heart and Stroke Foundation, a volunteer-based health charity, leads in eliminating heart disease and stroke and reducing their impact through the advancement of research and its application, the promotion of healthy living and advocacy.
2 .Several years ago the HSFO identified a number of Ontario populations that were priority groups in terms of awareness of heart disease and stroke. Who are these groups and what are the HSFO’s aspirations for engagement with these populations?
We know that the population in Ontario and Canada as a whole is becoming increasingly diverse, and this trend presents new challenges for the healthcare system. The Heart and Stroke Foundation identified four ethno-cultural communities which were at increased risk of heart disease and stroke: people of African descent, and the South Asian, Chinese and Aboriginal communities. Our goal is to bring awareness to their increased risk of heart disease and stroke by providing ethno-culturally-specific resources and initiatives.
3. Can you describe the various areas of investment and activities the HSFO has been engaged in within the Black community? And, in your opinion, how has the community responded to those initiatives?
HSFO has been a supporter and member of the Black Health Alliance for the past five years. Many of our joint activities have included awareness-raising events to increase knowledge of the increased risk of heart disease and stroke among people of African descent.
HSFO is one partner of many community leaders and organizations, including Black Health Alliance, which recently gathered to ask what could be done to address the alarming health risks of Black communities. At the inaugural Black Leadership Health Summit in Toronto in May 2011, and at a second summit in Windsor in November 2011, community leaders discussed directions towards solutions that could effectively combat the lost health and lost years and to ensure Ontario’s Black population can live longer, fuller lives. Their commitment, passion and dedication to improve the health of Ontario’s Black communities culminated in the creation of a vision for a Black Health Network for Ontario. It would consist of an active network of institutions, agencies, corporations and individuals from across Ontario, advocating and promoting health in and for Black communities.
4. The HSFO plays a significant advocacy role in helping to inform public health policy. Last year during the run up to the Ontario elections, HSFO was one of several groups urging the various provincial parties to make a commitment to increase its investment in health promotion at least to the levels seen in British Columbia and Quebec. What are some of the other major public health initiatives HSFO would like to see implemented in Ontario?
The HSFO is currently working with our partners at the Ontario Chronic Disease Prevention Alliance (OCDPA) to urge Ontarians to join our 0.5 per cent campaign and call on their MPPs, finance minister and premier to take action to make Ontario the healthiest province in Canada by investing at least 0.5 per cent of the Ontario budget in health promotion and chronic disease prevention.
Within the framework of health prevention and promotion, the HSFO is advocating for comprehensive funding and policies to support reducing childhood obesity and smoking cessation. More specifically, we are calling on government to improve the health of Ontarians and prevent the unsustainable rising cost of health care. To do so, the OCDPA recommends Ontario achieve the following targets by 2017:
a. More than 73 per cent of Ontarians physically active, achieving the recommended 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise per week, if possible;
b. Fewer than 32 per cent of Ontarians either overweight or obese;
c. Decreased prevalence of tobacco use in Ontario by another five per cent;
e. Reduced proportion of overweight and obese children in Ontario to 20 per cent.
5. You are aware of the sparse research into hypertension, stroke and heart disease among people of African descent in Canada and how helpful this information would be for the community, medical professionals, and public health departments.
Yes, there is currently a gap in scientific knowledge around the impact of cardiovascular disease as well as prevention strategies for high-risk ethno-cultural groups such as the Black community. We are aware that on average stroke may occur at an earlier age among males of African descent and South Asian females in Ontario compared to other groups, and that Canadians of African descent are up to three times more likely to have high blood pressure compared to Caucasian Canadians. In Ontario, the prevalence of hypertension is 44 per cent higher in people of African descent as compared to Caucasians. A study showed that the rate of hypertension among people of African descent in their 40s and 50s is highest compared to other ethnic groups.
The Heart and Stroke Foundation continues to invest millions in world-class research each year to improve the lives of all Canadians. Although research has identified the unique risks facing members of our ethno-cultural community, we’ve also made progress in identifying the differences in risks between ethno-cultural groups. Moving forward, we need to continue to fund research that identifies why we are seeing these differences and what we can do to reduce the burden of heart disease and stroke in these groups.
6. In your opinion, what are some of the major challenges and opportunities in the effort to significantly reduce the impact of heart disease and stroke among people of African descent?
The challenges and opportunities to significantly reduce the impact of heart disease and stroke are complex. As Dr. Camara Phyllis Jones says, “the efforts needed to address the health inequity (experienced by people of African descent) include differences in the quality of care received within the health care system; differences in access to health care, including preventative and curative services; and differences in life opportunities, exposures and stresses that result in differences in underlying health status.”
Through our current partnership on the development of the Black Health Network, we look forward to working with the People of African Descent communities to give voice to these differences and start working towards a solution for them.
7. I am sure HSFO has planned awareness events, could you share the details of some for us?
There are all types of events planned throughout Ontario to raise money and awareness for the Heart and Stroke Foundation. Visit www.heartandstroke.on.ca for the event listings.
At present, the focus of the foundation in Ontario is on the development of a provincial Black Health Network to empower the community to take the lead in assisting us in addressing the cardiovascular needs of the Black community.
For more information on the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Ontario, visit http://www.heartandstroke.on.ca
In the coming weeks, we will hear from a cardiologist (heart specialist) and a heart disease testimonial.
Dr. Christopher J. Morgan is the director of Morgan Chiropractic & Wellness, an interdisciplinary health centre in Toronto, and the President of the Black Health Alliance, a network of community organizations, health professionals and community members working in partnership to advance the health and well-being of the Black community. He can be reached at (416) 447-7600 or email@example.com.