EXPERTS agree that the health of the Black community is in serious condition, with a higher incidence than the average population when it comes to certain diseases like heart disease, HIV/AIDS and diabetes. But there also are concerns about disparities in both access to health care and in the quality of health care available. Research shows that Black women--a third of whom lack health insurance--are getting the poorest quality of treatment.
There are some signs of encouragement, though, like the growing number of women who are taking charge. They are medical doctors, researchers, academicians, lobbyists, even a U.S. representative. When it comes to Black health concerns, these Sisters are on the case.
On these pages, we present a representative group of the women who are on the cutting edge of health.
U.S. Del. Donna M. Christensen, M.D.
CURRENTLY serving her fourth term as a member of congress, the Honorable DONNA M. CHRISTENSEN, Delegate from the United States Virgin Islands, is the first female physician-representative in the history of the U.S. Congress, where she chairs the Congressional Black Caucus' Health Braintrust, among other committee and caucus duties. As CBC Health Braintrust chair, the former Virgin Islands Acting Commissioner of Health, who also has worked as a private physician and emergency room doctor, has been a staunch advocate for increased funding for HIV/AIDS research and to reduce the health disparities between the Black and White communities. Christensen also was named this year to the House Select Committee on Homeland Security, where she is a member of the Subcommittee on Emergency Preparedness and Response, which oversees the security of the public health infrastructure to ensure the country's health system will be prepared to withstand a national crisis.
Dr. Victoria A. Cargill
DR. VICTORIA A. CARGILL is director of Minority Studies and director of Clinical Research in the Office of AIDS Research at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in Bethesda, Md. She formerly taught at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine, where she was only the second African-American woman to attain the rank of full professor. The recipient of many awards, Dr. Cargill has focused her efforts at the NIH on the growing health disparity in the area of HIV/AIDS and the impact of HIV infection upon racial and ethnic minorities. She also has worked closely with other federal agencies, community organizations, advocacy groups, minority investigators and academic institutions to identify potential areas in the National Institutes of Health AIDS research portfolio that might benefit minorities. She is working with an ad hoc team at the NIH to develop the scientific agenda in this area. In addition to her duties at NIH, Dr. Cargill continues to treat AIDS patients in Anacostia in Southeast D.C., where HIV/AIDS rates can run as high as those in some African countries.
Lorraine Cole, Ph.D.
DR. LORRAINE COLE is the president and chief executive officer of the Washington, D.C.-based Black Women's Health Imperative, the national organization dedicated to ensuring optimum health for Black women and girls, and eliminating racial and gender health disparities. The Black Women's Health Imperative provides important resources to help Black women become savvy health care consumers-recognizing symptoms and understanding all the health care options available. The organization also serves as an advocate for Black women's health, working with policy-makers, researchers, health care providers, the health industry and media in a continuing effort to close health care gaps, pushing for, among other things, patient rights and universal health care. "We believe that health should be a right of being an American," she says. "So health care should be available to all Americans." Dr. Cole also has served as executive director of the National Medical Association, the oldest national organization representing African-American physicians, and as executive director of the Minority Health Professions Foundation, an organization supporting biomedical research in schools of medicine, dentistry, pharmacy and veterinary medicine at historically Black institutions. …