Last week, our Chief Medical Officer, Dr. J. Nwando Olayiwola spoke with at the Middlesex County NAACP Branch’s general membership meeting. Her topic was “Chronic Diseases and Self Management”. She spoke about chronic diseases as a national problem, accounting for 7 out of 10 deaths in Americans each year. 50% of deaths each year come from heart disease, cancer and strokes. Almost 50% of adults have at least one chronic disease.
While some aspects of chronic diseases are out of our control, there are a few things that we can control, such as tobacco use, excess alcohol, poor nutrition and inactivity. Yet often, we get caught in a vicious cycle. Chronic diseases can bring pain and debilitation, anger and depression, loss of physical function, decreased mobility and dependence. Each of these can exacerbate one another.
Dr. Olayiwola shared a quote, “Once a chronic disease is present, one cannot NOT manage, the only question is how.” She focused on self-management and patient education. However, she later raised an important question that really livened up the discussion, “Is being a minority a risk factor by itself?” Black men and women have a higher prevalence of heart failure, hypertension and strokes. While black women have a lower incidence of breast cancer, they have a higher mortality.
Patient education and self-management are important, but until underlying system issues are addressed, we will continue to have more and more chronic diseases to manage. People talked about the achievement gap in the Connecticut school systems. They talked about getting past a history of distrust of researchers and the medical establishment. They spoke about experiments that had been done in Tuskegee and Guatemala. Dr. Olayiwola spoke about the rise of community-based participatory research. The book “Courageous Conversations About Race: A Field Guide for Achieving Equity in Schools” was mentioned.
The discussions were a good start and the Middlesex County NAACP Branch will have continuing discussions addressing the underlying issues.