By Fia Curley
We all know how it goes: an ounce of prevention...
So, after years of working on their own turfs and getting only so far, a group of organizations decided to come together to devise prevention strategies to tackle the debilitating diseases and the rising HIV rates that are disjointing the African immigrant community.
The National African Health Initiative (NAHI), involving several African immigrant organizations and the Office of Minority Health Resource Center (OMHRC), will participate in a series of three summits across the United States in order to bring attention to and solve the pressing health issues affecting their community.
One of the prevention problems they have confronted, according to several of the speakers, is lack of information and data specific to the African immigrants.
"The tendency has been to lump the African immigrants with the African Americans," said Margaret Korto, OMHRC Capacity Building Specialist, "and this hampers the prevention efforts because there are cultural factors, such as the taboos against sexual education or the denial of homosexuality in the community, that not only differ for the African immigrants, but also vary from one country of origin to another."
Korto explains that one can find parallels with Latinos. Not too long ago, the statistics describing the Hispanic community were only based on the Mexican Americans and ignored the great diversity of that community, which was found to retard efforts to prevent HIV, for instance.
NAHI's hope is that organization will lead to mobilization and that the diversity of languages, cultures and customs of African immigrants will be seen, which will help with the tailoring of preventative messages and possibly even medications.
The series of summits began with a two-day event at Atlanta's Mercer University on Nov. 30. All the issues were placed on the table, and no subject was taboo.
Community members, health care workers and faith and organizational leaders openly worked together to pinpoint the areas leading to the communities' stumbling blocks.
"We need to be serious about what we want for ourselves," said Dr. Ahmed Adu-Opong, key note speaker. "Who's going to take us seriously if we don't take ourselves seriously?"
Day one blended the issues of faith and health, involving both Christian and Muslim leaders to discuss how faith can be used to effectively improve the health of the community. Day two focused on the impact of HIV on the community and the steps needed to solve the problems highlighted on day one through networking, advocacy, utilizing resources and recording accurate demographics.
Talks were heated as speakers stated the statistics and the shortcomings the community faces concerning several health issues.
"Prevention is better than cure," said Dr. Hassan Danesi, who has worked in the HIV field for at least a decade. "It doesn't cost anything to prevent, but it's expensive to cure. If you think education costs a lot, try ignorance."
Participants were encouraged to not shy away from talking about sex and HIV with their children.
"Education, it's a moral responsibility; it's on all of us," Adu-Opong said. "You don't have to be on a planning committee. We need to be proactive in this area. Inform yourself and inform your neighbors."