Former Surgeon General Highlights Discrepancies in Care
February 2, 2004 4:04 PM
In a speech to celebrate Black History month, former Surgeon General Dr. David Satcher called on student participation in the continuing battle for racial and economic equality in health care and comprehensive sex education.
Satcher spoke to a nearly packed Jack Adams Hall Monday at noon to reiterate issues that were close to his heart while he served as the United States’ 16th surgeon general.
Satcher, who is currently the director for the National Center for Primary Care at Morehouse School of Medicine in Atlanta touched on every topic ranging from sustaining the quality of life for the great aging American population to the pressures he faced in balancing medical science with policy while he served in Washington.
But the thrust of his remarks focused around the ongoing discrepancies in access to health care for racial and ethnic minorities and low socio-economic communities, and the long-term impact.
“This is country has become increasingly diverse,” Satcher said. “If it’s going to be our strength, we’ve got to deal with it in positive ways.”
His slide presentation presented shocking numbers to illustrate current discrepancies. An African American infant is nearly two-and-a-half times more likely to die in the first year of life compared to a white infant.
Heart disease is still the leading cause of death for all Americans, yet an African American male is 30 percent more likely to die, while an African American female is 40 percent more likely to die from the disease than the majority white population.
Diabetes, the fastest growing disease in the country, is found most in African American and Latino populations. The list went on.
When it came to sexual education, it wasn’t any more encouraging. More than 50 percent of new AIDs cases are found in African American males.
Satcher’s definition of comprehensive sexual education was not merely learning the ins and outs of safe sex and contraception, which are important in their own right, but he stressed it was also a question of having a deeper knowledge and respect for oneself and others.
“Sexuality is not just about having sex,” Satcher stressed. “It’s the concept of yourself. It’s about being secure enough to make decisions, and be prepared to protect yourself and others regardless of sexual orientation.”
Still, Satcher was encouraging and highlighted that changes can be made on an individual level by getting educated and making positive lifestyle-appropriate changes to studying further to alter policy.
“It’s probably obvious that I’ve celebrated a lot of Black History months,” Satcher said. “In fact, I realized that I’m part of Black History month. Once you understand that, it encourages you to make a contribution, set goals for your life.”
Satcher’s contributions were significant during his tenure from 1998-2002. In that time, Satcher produced the first Surgeon General’s Report on Mental Health, the first Surgeon General’s Call to Action To Promote Sexual Health And Responsible Sexual Behavior.
Though Satcher admitted he came up against a lot of pressure in Washington, he was still able to joke about it.
“People say there are two great lies: one, the check is in the mail, and two, I’m from the government and (am) here to help you.”
Still, Satcher stressed the role of each individual to make sure our policies are consistent with our science.
“You have the opportunity to make a difference in your own life and in the people around you,” Satcher said.
That includes getting out to vote, he later said.
Satcher said he was excited to be on a campus that he characterized as being on the forefront of the sexual education front.
The speech was sponsored by the Human Sexuality Studies Program/National Sexuality Resources Center and the Student Health Center, among many others.
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