Surgeon General encourages collaboration and partnerships for health equity

U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams called for partnerships at every level to improve health outcomes for all Americans at the NAACP’s 110th annual convention in Detroit. Adams was the keynote speaker at the convention’s health luncheon.

During his talk, Adams addressed the political elephant in the room. The surgeon general, who was appointed by President Donald Trump, acknowledged the tensions between the current administration’s policies and rhetoric and the work of organizations like the NAACP to create equity on all fronts.

“Don’t worry about the administration. Instead, concentrate on what we can do together,” Adams said.

Trump declined an invitation from NAACP leadership to address the convention. But Adams said that the work of advocacy groups like the NAACP is changing the narrative around community health and economic prosperity.

“Whether you are a supporter of this administration or not, as advocates who are promoting health equity you must be at the table or you will be on the menu,” Adams said.

Citing a recent Gallup poll that shows most voters focus on economics, Adams insisted that what matters is not how voters view the issue. Instead, he noted, now more than ever before it is important to draw the link between health and economics. He said his office is working with large companies to show them the benefits of having a healthy workforce, in terms of lower insurance costs and fewer lost wages.

Adams also addressed the opioid crisis and inequities in resources to address the epidemic. Historically, America has turned a blind eye to the way that illegal drugs, including crack, have ravaged communities of color. The spotlight on prevention, intervention and improving treatment is brighter now because drug epidemics and the rates of drug overdoses and deaths are impacting White America.

The surgeon general has been very transparent about how the crisis impacted his own family. His brother is one of the many Black men incarcerated due to drug-related charges. Adams said the Office of the Surgeon General has placed a priority on awareness and resources, including his Spotlight on Opioids and digital postcard, which he urged the audience to share.

“There is no more us and them,” Adams said. “The goal is to make sure funding and resources reach all communities.”

In Michigan, where the NAACP convention took place, marijuana has been legalized for both medical and recreational use. But Adams expressed concern about the long-term public health impact of marijuana use. The marijuana that is being produced and sold today, he said, “is a different product” with significantly higher levels of THC than ever before.

“We are moving too far, too fast,” he said. “As an example, from a public health perspective, we are seeing more pregnant women using marijuana.”

The surgeon general stressed the need for more collaborations, funding and partnerships to address the issues that impact the health and well-being of people of color.

One of the NAACP Health Committee’s major initiatives is addressing the high rates of diabetes among African Americans. During his speech, Adams shared that he was diagnosed with pre-diabetes, a precursor to Type 2 diabetes and one of the leading causes of heart disease, stroke and kidney failure among African Americans.

The NAACP Health Committee’s ACE program is a collaborative partnership with the Alliance for Home Dialysis and sponsor Baxter International focused on chronic kidney disease. The initiative is designed to improve dialysis in the home and advocacy for prevention and better treatment.

As Adams closed his speech, he urged the audience to keep fighting for health. Embracing the theme of this year’s convention, he said, “When we fight, we win.”

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