Lovell's Food For Thought – The Invisible Man

Dr. Lovell Jones | 3/23/2014, midnight
There is a proverbs quote that says, “The more things change, the more they remain the same”. In terms of ...

There is a proverbs quote that says, “The more things change, the more they remain the same”. In terms of the health disparities gap, it means that no matter how much “progress” we have made, the gap still pretty much remains the same. This question has generated one of my longest “Food for Thoughts.” It becoming more and more disconcerting in terms of how long as Americans we are going to tolerate this and can we? That is the question we should be asking, no matter what color we are or what political position we have.

In 1985, I wrote my first major grant targeting breast cancer in African American women. That grant was not even scored. The primary reviewers comments can be summarized as follows, “Don’t you know that biology has nothing to do with the higher breast cancer mortality rates in African American women? It is the issue of access; end of story.” For almost a decade, I kept hearing this. Then a story in The New York Times came out about it being just an issue of access, and how black women delayed in getting treatment. That got me so angry that I called colleagues and friends from around the country to ask, “Where was the proof that this was the only reason?” Fortunately, I was able to get financial support and convince enough people to come to Washington, D.C., in the fall of 2000 to hold a summit to evaluate research in African American women. Specifically the meeting looked at breast cancer to determine a number of things, but specifically looking at what was contributing to the gap, a lack of access, biological or cultural factors, or a combination of all of them. Of the 130 scientists, policymakers and survivors who attended, the conclusion was that it was all of these. It also stated that more research needed to be done. There were two publications that came of out of that summit, “Impact of breast cancer on African American women: priority areas for research in the next decade,” which appeared in the American Journal of Public Health in 2002 (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1447112/) and a monograph in Cancer summarizing the results, priorities and recommendations that came out of the “Summit Meeting Evaluating Research on Breast Cancer in African American Women” (Cancer. 2003 Jan 1;97). Now, over a decade later, we are still seeing this gap as indicated by Dr. Steven Whitman (www.multivu.com/.../52895-Hurlbert-Whitman-Final-original.pdf). Why? Could it be as Dr. Whitman, director of Sinai Urban Health Institute and the study’s senior author calls “undeniable systemic racism”?

Over a decade ago I wrote an opinion piece, and then rewrote it again this year, based on my perception on why things are as they are. Here is the central theme, “Benign neglect, or ignoring an often-undesirable situation rather than dealing with it, is an attitude that continues to plague efforts to truly deal with an issue that I consider a threat to the future of this nation. Couple this lack of dealing with what plagues America with politics, racism and racialism, and you face a system that has been truly unresponsive to the educational, research, and health care needs of minorities and the poor.” With publication on March 3, 2014 of Tara Parker-Pope’s New York Times article on Dr. Witman's paper entitled, “The Breast Cancer Racial Gap,” highlighting the increasing mortality gap in breast cancer between African American and white women, the issue that I wrote about in 1985 in not just in scientific articles are right in our faces again.