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Date: Feature Week of August 15, 2004
Topic: Black Press Business/Economic
Author: William Reed
Article ID: article_ema081504

HELPING ACHIEVE EQUITABLE ACCESS IN HEALTH CARE: Targeting African Americans Eye-To-Eye

Each year the U.S. spends nearly a trillion dollars on health care.  Even though per capita spending in the U.S. health system is greater than in health systems of most other industrialized nations, our race and ethnicity issues continue to be powerful determinants of life experiences, opportunities and expectancies.  African Americans and minorities experience the most acute barriers in access to health care; but key African American leaders in the industry now focus on giving blacks better access to health-improvement programs.

Rubin Spann is a Specialty Market Manager helping to close-the-gap.  He has a national program to educate and promote awareness about glaucoma among African Americans.  “All too often, African Americans are unaware that they suffer visual impairment,” starts Spann’s spiel.    He’s got an eye for this industry because eye care is a $11 billion market.  One of the U.S. National Institutes of Health, the National Eye Institute, has funded several studies to determine the prevalence and severity of major eye problems affecting Americans.   Their findings show cataracts, glaucoma and diabetes the most prevalent causes of visual loss among African-Americans.

Cataracts - clouding of the lenses in our eyes - can be surgically removed when the opaqueness becomes so dense vision is significantly impaired.  However, untreated glaucoma and diabetic eye disease (called diabetic retinopathy) can cause visual loss that cannot be reversed.  Spann’s presentations point out glaucoma as the nation’s third most common cause of blindness.  It also directly affects over 750,000 African Americans.  Blacks are 6 to 8 times more likely to develop glaucoma than whites and 17 times more likely to go blind from it.

The good news Spann bears is that screening tests on eyes can detect changes early enough so glaucoma and diabetes don’t do permanent damage.  Glaucoma is most often associated with elevated pressures within the eye that can be easily measured by an instrument called a tonometer.  The test, which takes just a few minutes, involves placing the tonometer gently against the eye to measure the pressure.  Doctors can also examine the back of the eye to see if elevated pressure is beginning to damage the optic nerve.

The prevalence of diabetes among African Americans is 70 percent higher than among whites.  Experts say that for people with diabetes, eye exams should be performed yearly, when the eye doctor dilates the pupil to get a full view of the retina.

There is no consensus on what ages and how often you should have a professional eye exam, you may be one of three million Americans glaucoma is affecting now.  Dr. Mildred M.G. Oliver, a glaucoma specialist, says “If you are between the ages of 20 and 29, a reasonable preventative approach is to schedule at least one screening; and one to two screenings between the ages of 30 and 39.”  Between 40 and 65, you should schedule an exam every two to four years; and starting at age 65, get tested every one to two years for cataracts, glaucoma, macular degeneration and other eye conditions.

Due to lack of access to proper care, African American life expectancy is six years shorter than whites at birth and two years shorter at age 65.  Larry Lucas, an Associate Vice President of the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) and author of a Black Media health reports that: “Lack of access is particularly tough on minority communities.  Minorities generally are less likely to be screened for fatal diseases or to be involved in preventive health programs”.   In a National Academies' Institute of Medicine report Dr. Alan Nelson says, "The real challenge lies not in debating whether disparities exist, but in developing and implementing strategies to reduce and eliminate them."

Spann’s business is identifying African Americans at-risk for developing glaucoma.  He is behind a multi-city urban outreach initiative that offers free screenings, education seminars and materials at community outreach events.  Over 15 percent of people participating in the TRAVATAN Eye Drops Project Focus program found pressure in one or both eyes elevated.  All now know that by using eye drops daily they can lower the pressure and substantially reduce any progression to glaucoma.  Spann says, “over 4,000 people have participated” in his Alcon Laboratories-sponsored presentations.  Spann and Dr. Oliver hold dinner meetings with community leaders and medial practitioner and have held public events at the Congressional Black Caucus Legislative Week-End, and conferences of groups such as the National Association of Black Journalists and National Baptist Convention. XXX

© 2000-2004 William Reed - www.BlackPressInternational.com

 

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