Social justice the Rx for racial health-care gap, Cook County medical chief says

Social justice the Rx for racial health-care gap, Cook County medical chief says
A Philadelphia-based organization called Health GAP, along with ACT UP Philadelphia and handful of others, rallied to show President Obama the impact of a lack of funding for AIDS treatment at home and abroad. September 20, 2010. Photo by riekhavoc (caught up?)

African Americans in Chicago suffer from high rates of HIV/AIDS, diabetes and hypertension, as well as childhood obesity and infant mortality. Because they’re disproportionately low-income, they are less likely to have health insurance, and even fewer have dental coverage, according to a fact sheet produced by chief medical officer of the Cook County Department of Public Health.

But when looking at how to end these disparities, Dr. Linda Rae Murray, the chief medical officer, has a radical idea: take the focus off providing conventional, physical health-based lmedicine.

Instead, to minimize the differences in the racial health-care gap in Chicago, everyone needs to take a long, hard look at the society and how it structures the medical system, Murray argues.

Equality is needed, she says.

“If you have social justice, you are more likely to have a healthy community and a healthy nation,” Murray says.

The Chicago Reporter sat down with Murray following a focus group on the health of African Americans in Chicago led by Murray at the University of Illinois Chicago. A report from the focus group will eventually be used for a Congress on the State of Black Chicago that will take place at Chicago State University on June 1.

The Congress is being put together by an illustrious list of big-hitters in Chicago’s African American community, including the educator-activist and long-time political worker Timuel Black; Ed Gardner, a businessman who used his wealth to help elect the city’s first black mayor; and Bernetta Howell-Barrett, former commissioner of Chicago's Department of Consumer Services and director of Chicago's Black United Fund.

As the chief medical officer of the county’s public hospital system, she is well placed to understand where social ills intersect with health troubles.

“If you have racism and discrimination, if you go to work and work 40 hours a week and still have poverty level wages, you can’t be healthy. Injustice makes people sick and kills people.”

“If you really want to impact people’s health, you have to have policies that help people stay healthy,” she says. And right now, with Chicago Public Schools getting ready to shut down dozens of schools, Murray says the area could be watching a public health emergency happen in slow motion.

“Our kids know nobody cares about them. If you go to a school with a leak in the ceiling, if you go to school and you don’t get a textbook until Christmas, that’s a clear message that we don’t care about you,” Murray says. “The closings of these schools destabilizes one of the last remaining institutions in these communities.”

According to Murphy, schools are one part of a complicated web that includes healthcare, transportation, food and even leisure time. If communities are to be healthy she says, society needs to be committed to each strand of the web.

Photo credit: riekhavoc (caught up?)

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