Wednesday, 22 November 2017

Physician Calls on Community to Strategize About its Health and Wellbeing

By Neil Armstrong 

Dr. Onye Nnorom, associate program director of the Public Health and Preventative Medicine Residency Program at the Dalla Lana School of Public Health, University of Toronto.  Photo credit: Matthew Pompey

A public health and preventative medicine specialist says the Black community needs to have a long-term vision and to strategize regarding its health and wellbeing.

Dr. Onye Nnorom, associate program director of the public health and preventative medicine residency program at the Dalla Lana School of Public Health at the University of Toronto was the keynote speaker at the third annual forum on black health, organized by the Black Health Alliance on November 4 in Toronto.

The event was entitled “A Sound Mind: Building a Black Health & Well-being Strategy” and Dr. Nnorom’s presentation was under the rubric – “And Still We Rise…New Approaches to Old Problems: Setting Our Own Agenda.”

Participants met in breakout sessions to focus on poverty, housing, food insecurity, mental health, youth perspectives and HIV/AIDS.
Dr. Nnorom advised them to keep in mind that racism is “toxic/detrimental to our health and well-being and it is affecting us in every facet of our lives, throughout the life course.”
She said there has been some progress in reducing disparities in North America but it is not enough and emphasized the need to have a long-term vision of what community wellbeing looks like “for us and future generations.”
Nnorom, the vice president and chair of the Black Physicians Association and a family physician at the TAIBU Community Health Cenre, also called for a focus on youth and other vulnerable populations.
She urged them those in attendance to advocate for race and ethnicity-based data so they can identify and champion interventions that work.
Dr. Nnorom had them all saying: “We face challenges, but still we rise. The revolution will not be televised; it's happening, live. In solidarity, stay calm and decolonize. We must have a long-term vision and strategize.”
Sections of her talk were inspired from poems such asStill I Rise” by poet, Maya Angelou,The Revolution Will Not Be Televised” by poet, Gil Scott-Heron, and “Keep Calm and Decolonize” by Buffy Sainte-Marie, Canadian Cree singer-songwriter.
Using the definition of ‘revolution’ from the Webster dictionary as “a fundamental change in the way of thinking about or visualizing something: a change of paradigm,” Dr. Nnorom said it is “not swift/sudden/violent, but there is a fundamental change that is occurring across North America.”
She said change is happening, it is too slow but steady --sometimes over generations – and that most of it due to policies not directly related to the provision of healthcare.
We need to advocate for race and ethnicity-specific data to identify disparities but also to measure progress in Canada, and to identify and prove what works.”
Dr. Nnorom, who is also the University of Toronto MD Program black health theme lead, encouraged participants to “continuously identify and question the negative messages we have been taught about other groups, each other and ourselves.”
“All forms of racism, discrimination are related forms of oppression,” she said.
She also underscored the importance of understanding indigenous history, oppression and advancement.
“It took a long time to establish racial inequities; it will take time to correct it. We need to understand and teach about our own history and oppression in this country and throughout ‘the colonies’ populated by the African diaspora.”
She told them to remember that discrimination based on our intersectionalities (income, ability, gender, sexual orientation) is counterproductive, and to appreciate “the impact of intergenerational trauma on our present state.”
The Black Health Alliance (BHA) is a not-for profit, charitable organization focused on the health and wellbeing of Black Canadians.

The recently passed Anti-Racism Act, 2017; Ontario’s 3-Year Anti-Racism Strategic Plan; Interim Toronto Action Plan to Confront Anti-Black Racism and the International Decade for People of African Descent make it timely to build sustainable and meaningful action with a Black Health and Well-being Strategy, it said.

“Without a strategy aimed at improving elements within public systems that have a detrimental impact on black lives, we will continue to be over-represented among those who are suffering and under-represented among those who are fully engaged,
benefitting from and thriving in society,” said BHA president, Dalon Taylor.

“The time for a black health and wellbeing strategy is long overdue. A coordinated initiative to strengthen the capacity and resiliency of the Black community is needed,” she explained.

[This story has been published in the North American Weekly Gleaner, Nov. 23-29, 2017.]

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