Sunday, February 26, 2012

Reflection on Health Disparities by Wujun Ke

The purpose of the Emerging Minds Project (EMP) is to create an intellectually open and dynamic environment for students to learn about and discuss social justice issues of today. Each month, a group of students come together at 5710 to dialogue with an experienced facilitator who works in the field.

This blog is an outlet for each of our members' voices. While this is a collection of their personal thoughts, we hope to display a glimpse of the multifaceted ways that each topic impacts the individual members of the EMP cohort.

*The views and opinions expressed in these blog entries are that of each individual author and do not necessarily reflect a collective opinion of the EMP cohort or that of the Office of Multicultural Student Affairs.

Reflection from the Racial Health Disparities in Chicago: What Can Be Done? by Wujun Ke
For a quick summary of the event, please visit the Chicago Maroon article. 

Last Monday’s Racial Health Disparities panel made me more aware of social justice problems afflicting the health care system in America as well as the steps we must take to guarantee universal access to health. The panel seemed to agree that the biggest problem in regard to the health care system is structural - that the poor are more predisposed to illness and less able to afford care, whereas the rich are less likely to become ill and more able to afford quality care. If economic status is so closely tied to the quality and accessibility of health care, then I wonder if the term “health care” should be more broadly defined than just by treatment of biological or bodily abnormalities.

After listening to all the speakers, I found the Project Brotherhood clinical model to be the most innovative and potentially most transformative. While improving the quality of community health practitioners, disseminating health information, and preventative efforts are certainly worthwhile, these initiatives do not question the conventional definition of health care. By incorporating other social services such as a barbershop, fatherhood classes, meditation and mentoring, Project Brotherhood seems to redefine health as inseparable from other human needs - in this case, needs tailored to the specific situation of African American men.

Our current health care system clumps health with science, neglecting the economic disparities and the complex social stressors that contribute to declining health. For instance, as a pre-medical student I am required to study Physics but not Medical Ethics. Elsewhere millions of dollars are being poured into scientific research that could potentially cure lethal illnesses, but not zoning practices that give the poor safe and affordable homes. Perhaps a more holistic definition of health is in order; namely, one that encompasses a person’s entire well-being instead of only their body’s well-being.

Perhaps re-organizing social resources, health care institutions, and community centers would be a way to alleviate racial health disparities, as well as allow a re-conceptualization of “health care” as a integrated social welfare sector. Long term solutions like job creation, education, and self-empowerment are also necessary for addressing economic disparities. However, I wonder if the government has sufficient incentive to address economic, racial, and health disparities that afflict needy populations. Is a nation-wide movement necessary for institutional change in health care? Are clinics designed for certain populations, for instance black men, sufficiently inclusive and expansive? How do we navigate cultural diversity to increase trust in health care? These are questions, in my opinion, that must be debated in order to work towards quality health care for all.