University of Pittsburgh
November 26, 2001

Pitt Assists Urban League in Examining Health of African Americans in Region

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PITTSBURGH--The health status of African Americans in Allegheny County and recommendations for improving African American health in the community are examined in three "Black Papers" developed for the Urban League of Pittsburgh by the University Center for Social and Urban Research (UCSUR) at the University of Pittsburgh.

"The health status of Black Pittsburgh is suffering due to deplorable conditions," said Esther Bush, president of the Urban League of Pittsburgh, Inc. "The significant disparities in health and health care between African American residents and the general population is such that the Urban League of Pittsburgh has asked the University of Pittsburgh Center for Social and Urban Research to write the first series of Black Papers on health issues in the African American community. They offer a clear picture of the severity of health-related problems experienced by African Americans.

"We welcome these papers, as they will point toward an accurate diagnosis and enable us to offer an effective intervention to address health disparities in the African American community," she added.

The first report, The Health Status of African Americans in Allegheny County, documents the leading causes of death of African American men and women, infant mortality, and rates both of firearm injuries and fatalities and of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). The data reported serve to benchmark the current health status of African Americans and, by way of comparison, whites in Allegheny County.

Sexually Transmitted Diseases Among African Americans in Allegheny County, the second report, has three sections. The first analyzes STD conditions and trends in Allegheny County and selected areas within the county. The second examines effective behavioral intervention programs in the U.S. that were successful in reducing the rate of STD infection among program participants. The final section identifies the core elements of an effective STD surveillance and prevention system.

The third report, Health Problems Among African American Women Ages 35-64 in Allegheny County, examines chronic and acute diseases that are the leading causes of morbidity and mortality in the county among African American women ages 35-64. The diseases examined are heart disease, all cancers, cerebrovascular disease, unintentional injuries, diabetes mellitus, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), influenza/pneumonia, gonorrhea, chlamydia, and AIDS.

"Middle-aged African American women were the focus of the third report because this population has higher mortality and morbidity rates than white women within the same age group, and the health problems of this group appear to have received less attention than the health problems of African American children or older women," said Ralph Bangs, research associate in USCUR and a principal investigator for all three studies.

Besides Bangs, principal investigators for the reports included Kenneth Thompson, M.D., associate professor of psychiatry and Soros Foundation Physician Advocate Fellow at the University of Pittsburgh; Haslyn Hunte, research assistant at UCSUR, who worked on the first two Black Papers; and Trista N. Sims, research assistant at UCSUR, who contributed to the third report.

"We did these studies for a few reasons," said Thompson. "According to prior studies done by Ralph (Bangs), we knew that the African American community's socio-economic condition in Pittsburgh was among the worst in the nation, reflecting a long legacy of racial discrimination, a history of immigration in the area, and a decline of the steel industry just when African Americans were gaining access to it.

"We also knew there was a high rate of infant mortality, which tends to mirror other health conditions. But there had been no independent public assessment of the status of African American health in the community, and we thought it would be important to gather all existing data and use them to make a connection between our growing focus on health care and the needs of people who bear the greatest burden of illness."

Funded by the Birmingham Foundation, Jewish Healthcare Foundation, UPMC Department of Community Initiatives, and University of Pittsburgh, Black Papers on African American Health can be found on UCSUR's Web site, www.ucsur.pitt.edu, by clicking on "publications."

"We are encouraging people to read these papers and to react to them," said Bush. "We want them to submit comments and suggestions about this important issue. We are hoping to create a dialogue in the community."