The Martin Luther King JR Freedom Center presents the Barbara Lee and Elihu Harris Lecture Series featuring Dr. Helene Gayle, President and CEO of CARE USA, an expert on the struggle for fighting poverty with years of direct experience in more than 50 countries working to help communities organize for their basic human right to good health.
Join US Congresswoman Barbara Lee and Dr. Helene Gayle, Saturday, April 20, 2013, 7:00 p.m., at Parks Chapel A.M.E. Church, 476 – 34th Street in Oakland, CA, as they discuss the critical need to improve our health. The lecture’s topic is “The State of Health in America and Beyond.” Good health has become an important Civil Rights issue. Good health is a human right!
Congresswoman Lee and Dr. Gayle will be in discourse about the role poverty plays on the deterioration of health for hundreds of millions in the United States and other nations. They will discuss how we can organize to get our nation’s priorities directed toward good health. They will also discuss what we, the people, can and must do to get and keep ourselves healthy, and illuminate amazing success stories from other nations. This lecture is open to the public. RSVP required. Call 510-434-3988.
I spoke to Dr. Gayle about her upcoming address —
Sandra Varner/Talk2SV: You are among very few people in this world with the unique perspective on global health matters that you have. That perspective posits you as a world health leader, clearly. What critical health factors do you think local communities should be focused on and how can we help in the fight against global health challenges?
Dr. Helene Gayle: I would say in some ways the challenges are different, in some ways they are the same. Clearly, issues linked to extreme poverty have a much bigger impact on the population that we work with from the vantage point of an organization like CARE. Our focus is on poverty in the least developed countries and in emerging economies. Their priorities include access to clean and safe drinking water, inadequate nutrition. While we (the US) have a big problem with obesity, in many countries that we work in, there is an absolute lack of access to food.
Illiteracy and poor sanitation and factors such as these are huge drivers that are generally linked to conditions of extreme poverty. These circumstances help to inform what we do in health. The biggest killers of people in poor countries are more linked to those factors whether it’s the number of children who die from diaherreal diseases and pneumonia every year and women who die of childbirth because of lack of access to health services. Also, critical factors due to poor nutrition and lack of access to contraception or unsafe practices. Inadequate nutrition and malnutrition: death due to those causes but I think in some ways the drivers are the same even though the manifestations may be different. In poor communities in the United States while it may not be lack of nutrition versus and obesity because of lack of access to most nutritious food or even lack of access on best nutrition practices the fact that in many poor communities in the United States supermarkets that are in poor neighborhood may not have the access to the range of vegetables and nutritional options.
Talk2SV: In your opinion, how do Americans rate when it comes to access to medical care and our overall physical health by comparison to other nations?
Dr. Gayle: If you compare the US to other western industrialized nations, we probably have the most expensive health care in terms of percent of our GDP and what it costs consumers but we have some of the worst outcomes. Clearly, we are not getting the value for our money and clearly we are not putting our dollars towards the things that can make the greatest impact on health outcomes– it’s pretty straightforward. When you examine our expenditures in health and look at health outcomes, our expenditures are greater and our health outcomes are worst by comparison to other industrialized nations. There is ‘a disconnect’ between what we’re spending and what we get for it.
Talk2SV: How do we change that?
Dr. Gayle: I think we change it by looking at working back from what are our goals for health outcomes are. Broadly speaking, we can have a direct impact by changing behaviors and changing some of the things that don’t cost as much. A health system that incentivizes, put more focus on preventive health and less on curative health, we could switch that balance. If most of our diseases that cause the greatest expenses here in our country are based on behavior and lifestyle, what we eat, how much we exercise, how we reduce stress in our daily lives and take into account the things we have actual control over, we could improve. The fact that we’ve cut physical education out of most of our educational budgets has impact.
When I grew up you had to take gym class now it doesn’t exist. We are raising a generation of children who eat the wrong things and are physically inactive. I think our focus should be put on how can cure diseases versus how do we instill the incentives to change the very behaviors that lad to those diseases so we can have better outcomes. More focus on preventive services, driving much more towards how we look at the things that actually are accountable downstream or upstream if you will further up the chain and not always looking at the consequences. Much of the solution is not necessarily in the medical service realm, it is really much more in how we incentivize behaviors that lead to healthy life styles.
Talk2SV: You are working closely with Congresswoman Barbara Lee to bring attention to this critical health piece. How did the two of you become engaged in this effort?
Dr. Gayle: We first met years and years ago when I was still at the Centers for Disease Control working on HIV and AIDS. Back then, we started ringing the alarm around the impact of HIV in minority communities. Congresswoman Lee was one of the first to seize the message, catch it and really made it a huge issue. We continued to work on the issues of global HIV and what was happening in poor communities around the world. Again, she was one of the first to recognize, take hold and help to push the legislation that ultimately resulted in making the U.S. government the largest funder of HIV prevention as well as treatment programs around the world. She was a real champion. She has always been there and has always been the one that gets it the quickest, to take action and willing to go to the mat on these issues that are saving people’s lives. Particularly for those who have the least access and making sure that the disadvantaged around the world are not left out of the opportunities for a safe and healthy life.