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AP Investigation: Bungling by UN Agency Hurt Ebola Response

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In this Monday, Aug. 10, 2015 photo, Juma Musa describes how he once opened a batch of ineffective chlorine powder that had expired a year earlier, during an interview at the government hospital in Kenema, eastern Sierra Leone. In the background is a yellow chlorine disinfectant sprayer. More than 40 health workers at the facility have died of Ebola. "We were in a war zone and the chlorine was the only thing that was giving us courage to come closer to patients," Musa says. (AP Photo/Sunday Alamba)

In this Monday, Aug. 10, 2015 photo, Juma Musa describes how he once opened a batch of ineffective chlorine powder that had expired a year earlier, during an interview at the government hospital in Kenema, eastern Sierra Leone. In the background is a yellow chlorine disinfectant sprayer. More than 40 health workers at the facility have died of Ebola. “We were in a war zone and the chlorine was the only thing that was giving us courage to come closer to patients,” Musa says. (AP Photo/Sunday Alamba)

MARIA CHENG, Associated Press
RAPHAEL SATTER, Associated Press
KRISTA LARSON, Associated Press

KENEMA, Sierra Leone (AP) — Something didn’t smell right.

As a worker at Kenema Government Hospital mixed a batch of chlorine on a broiling August day, he noticed it didn’t have its typically strong, bleach-like odor. Concerned, he turned to a consultant with the World Health Organization, who tested the disinfectant and found barely any active ingredient.

“I was deeply shocked,” the consultant, Jerome Souquet, wrote in an email to his boss in Freetown, Sierra Leone’s capital. Souquet said the consequences of using the ineffective chlorine “could be catastrophic, and cause immediate infection of all the staff.”

Questionable chlorine was just one of a toxic mix of avoidable problems faced by Ebola responders in Kenema last summer as the outbreak was spiking. Weak leadership, shoddy supplies and infighting exacerbated a chaotic situation at a critical front in the battle against the virus, an Associated Press investigation has found. More than 40 health workers died in Kenema — a devastating loss in the fight to control an epidemic that has claimed more than 11,000 lives.

In March, AP reported that senior officials at WHO’s Geneva headquarters resisted calls to declare Ebola an international health emergency — the equivalent of an SOS signal — on political and economic grounds. But newly obtained documents, recordings of conference calls and interviews with key players on the ground show that even after the alarm was raised, WHO and others struggled to put together a decisive response.

The World Health Organization’s Director-General Dr. Margaret Chan — whose U.N. agency is charged with leading the fight against global outbreaks — demanded the dispatch of vehicles and equipment, but penny-pinching meant only a trickle of cash made its way to frustrated responders. Supplies were so scarce that body bags — which protect aid workers from exposure to the highly contagious corpses — ran out. Confusion delayed the construction of a new treatment clinic.

Experts say the fumbling cost lives across West Africa.

“There’s no question that a better and earlier response from WHO could have resulted in thousands and thousands of fewer deaths than we saw,” said Dr. Irwin Redlener, director of the National Center for Disaster Preparedness at Columbia University in New York.

The situation at Kenema hospital last summer was horrific. Blood-drenched patients lay in agony in understaffed wards as the dead cluttered the hallways. Health workers sweltered through grueling shifts despite attacks from locals who threatened to burn the building down, convinced doctors and nurses were spreading the disease deliberately.

Meanwhile WHO was “paralyzed,” according to Joseph Fair, an American disease expert who was in Freetown advising the Sierra Leone government. In interviews with AP, he described “death by conference call” as health officials argued about things like whether to order more ambulances and the proper color of body bags.

Two months ago, a WHO-commissioned panel criticized the organization’s leadership but did not mention the logistical problems, infighting or other details uncovered by AP. The report called for accountability, but did not name a single person or department responsible for the failures. The evaluation concluded that “WHO was reported to be respected for its technical work in the three (Ebola-affected) countries.”

___

“WE ARE AT RISK OF VERY POOR PERCEPTION”

Kenema, a diamond town whose potholed roads turn to red sludge in the rainy season, was a microcosm of the messy response across West Africa as Ebola raged out of control last year. Identified in the West African forest in early 2014, the virus appeared to abate in May before surging back, killing hundreds in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia throughout June and July before belatedly triggering an international emergency in August. Officials estimate the outbreak won’t be stopped before the end of 2015.

One of Sierra Leone’s largest cities, Kenema’s proximity to Guinea’s forest region and its decent road link to Freetown made it a key seeding point as the virus spread across the region. It was identified as one of two priority areas in an urgent July 24 message sent by WHO’s Chan to her senior staff. “Transportation, PPE (personal protective equipment) and other equipment must (be) provided,” she wrote.

That did not quite happen.

Staffers were so strapped for safety gear that nurse Donnell Tholley said they sometimes resorted to ill-fitting gloves to protect their hands and stray plastic packaging instead of heavy-duty footwear.

And then there was the chlorine.

In Kenema, the disinfectant was made from powder kept in 10- or 25- kilogram (20- to 50-pound) drums in the hospital’s storeroom. The powder was mixed with water in several stages to make chlorine solution for washing hands and sterilizing surfaces. Many aid organizations in West Africa — like Doctors Without Borders, which had a facility in nearby Kailahun — imported the powder. WHO decided to use chlorine from the government’s own supplies in Freetown.

That proved to be a mistake.

By the time Souquet wrote his Aug. 20 email, it was the second time in several days the hospital had been left with defective chlorine.

Drums were repeatedly found with tags ripped off, expiration dates obscured or marked by evidence of tampering. Hospital porter Juma Musa described his horror at opening a batch of chlorine powder in July to find that it had expired more than a year earlier.

While in that case Musa said he stopped the spoiled chlorine from being used, other porters told AP they could not rule out that bad batches slipped through. The problem badly rattled staff at a time when many already were abandoning their posts.

“We were in a war zone and the chlorine was the only thing that was giving us courage to come closer to patients,” Musa said.

Kenema Government Hospital, an outdoor campus of aging buildings connected by gravel pathways, had enough problems as it was.

The nurses’ station was perilously close to an area where Ebola patients were held, with only a flimsy barrier to separate them. Triage was virtually non-existent, and patients — many of them children — were shuffled to the Ebola ward bearing “slips of paper containing incomprehensible abbreviations or incomplete histories,” according to an Aug. 7 status report drafted by Tulane University’s John Schieffelin and Shevin Jacob of the University of Washington. Maxon Kobba, a nurse there, said that as many as 20 patients could die in one night.

“Some would cry, ‘I want to die! I want to die!’ because they were in so much pain,” he said.

Walking into the hospital made for “the shock of my life,” U.S. health official Austin Demby told Sierra Leone expatriates in an Aug. 16 conference call, a recording of which was obtained by AP. He described seeing dead bodies “just laying all over the place” and a “complete breakdown” in management.

“I’m not for blaming anybody for anything, but WHO could really spend a little bit more time on Kenema,” Demby said on the call.

Others complained about WHO leadership, too. When the Red Cross offered to build an Ebola treatment center to deal with the crush of patients in Kenema, it was held up because no one in Sierra Leone’s government or WHO could tell them where to build it.

“The instructions keep changing and nobody seems to take leadership,” Red Cross official Panu Saaristo said in an Aug. 4 email to WHO’s Ian Norton, who acknowledged that the issue was serious.

“We are at risk of very poor perception by the public when we send in IFRC (the Red Cross) then block their ability to care for patients,” Norton wrote in a follow-up message sent to colleagues.

The government in Freetown eventually insisted that the Red Cross set up 12 kilometers (8 miles) out of town. Amanda McClelland, a senior Red Cross Ebola advisor in Sierra Leone, argued against the decision.

“I was trying to hold my ground (until) the president of the country called me,” she told the AP. “And he said, ‘Well, you can build there or you can go home.'”

The Red Cross gave in and spent about a week fighting to clear the rural site with a single bulldozer in the driving rain before an expert said the land was unusable. The clinic was eventually built several miles away and opened in September 2014 — after the outbreak had peaked, McClelland said.

Outside the hospital’s main entrance, the health workers who died are memorialized in a large black marble monument etched with their names and the dates of their deaths. Fading fliers with photos and messages of love remain taped to the cement walls in each ward. The toll of the dead became so overwhelming a new cemetery was opened, behind the Red Cross clinic, the graves marked with numbers instead of names.

Sierra Leone has lost more health workers than any other country affected by the virus, recording 221 of 513 overall deaths.

___

“EVEN BUYING BUCKETS WAS DIFFICULT”

Emails reviewed by AP put many of the complaints over WHO leadership at the feet of Jacob Mufunda, the WHO Representative in Sierra Leone. WHO Representatives, known as WRs, are supposed to reinforce poor nations’ health systems and prod local officials to action, but AP found little evidence Mufunda did either.

Meetings scheduled to last a single hour routinely stretched to three or even five hours with “lots of endless talk” and “no decision taken,” WHO Ebola coordinator Philippe Barboza complained in an Aug. 8 email to Mufunda.

Fair, who was with the U.S. epidemic research firm Metabiota Inc. before working as a government adviser, recalled an interminable conference call in which officials spent “a good 45 minutes discussing the cultural sensitivities of having a black body bag versus a blue or white one.” The cultural issues were real — black body bags were seen as sinister — but Fair said he was upset “that we were spending this much time discussing the color of body bags when we don’t have any.”

Requests to fix critical problems like the hospital’s shaky generator regularly went unfulfilled by Mufunda’s office, leaving WHO technicians to cover thousands of dollars’ worth of expenses out of their own pockets, according to two WHO employees on the ground at the time. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk without the U.N. agency’s permission.

Lionel Larcin, a Doctors Without Borders water and sanitation expert sent to Kenema in early August, described sitting on the plane to Africa “reading the newspaper about millions of dollars being sent to fight the virus.” But when he asked for protective boots, he was shocked to find WHO staffers dipping into their daily allowances to pay for them.

“Even buying buckets was difficult,” he said.

A missive from WHO chief Chan obtained by AP laid out the scale of the problem, not just in Kenema but across West Africa. The Aug. 3 email to Mufunda and other senior WHO staffers said logistics experts were receiving only a couple hundred dollars a week to cover $1,000 or even $10,000 worth of expenditures — a problem that had been festering for four months. Chan warned that WHO needed to respond efficiently if it was to retain its leadership.

“I expect all colleagues especially our WRs to facilitate experts and staff to do their field work and not to post barriers because business as usual does not work during crisis.”

Mufunda, who was reassigned to run WHO’s office in Mozambique shortly thereafter, did not return messages from AP seeking comment.

Dr. Bruce Aylward, WHO’s top Ebola official, disputed that the mistakes uncovered by AP worsened the epidemic. He said swapping posts was common in emergencies and that Mufunda and other WHO representatives in Guinea and Liberia “took the outbreak very, very seriously and were deeply concerned.”

“Now, their ability to scale the response and manage the response the way it needed to be done — they may not have had that experience or that expertise,” Aylward said.

In addition to struggles with the government, WHO also was wrestling over the reins with Metabiota, the epidemic research company. The San Francisco-based firm had been charged with reinforcing Sierra Leone’s response, but emails obtained by AP alleged that the company was instead undermining the U.N. agency’s authority by drawing up response plans without WHO’s knowledge.

“Since weeks now Metabiota staff are doing their level best to systematically bypass and marginalise (the) WHO role,” wrote Barboza, the Ebola coordinator.

Barboza said the relationship with Metabiota was verging on “open conflict,” and recommended pulling all epidemiological staff from Kenema. He warned that the feud was holding up 1 million euros in funding from donors skeptical that WHO had control over the situation.

“That comes as a surprise to me,” said Metabiota CEO Nathan Wolfe in an interview Friday. “Most of the feedback has been that we worked very well with WHO.”

In follow-up emails Saturday, Metabiota said it had looked into the matter and said the conflict was an “individual disagreement between a Metabiota consultant and an individual at the WHO that we resolved.”

Reached by AP, Barboza declined to comment on the emails. Fair said he could not comment on the issue, which emerged after he left the company.

The response also was complicated by other problems.

Emails obtained by AP show a WHO data expert accusing Sierra Leonean officials of fiddling with her Ebola figures to make them match their government’s count, presumably to avoid having their numbers contradicted by the U.N. One Kenema government lab worker was even accused of accepting bribes in order to fake Ebola test results, a practice that risked sending infected people back into the community.

Then there was the matter of sheer indifference.

Amid a shortage of body bags, Fair said he spent about 12 hours calling numerous government officials in Freetown, in an attempt to guide a shipment of body bags through customs. By 11 p.m., after dozens of calls, he threatened to have the uncooperative airport customs officer fired unless the body bags were released.

Eventually, some 100 bags were piled into a car. In a 4 a.m. email to Barboza, Fair told AP, he begged the police superintendent to let the driver through a checkpoint so the bags could arrive overnight but said the superintendent slept through the driver’s calls. Stuck at the checkpoint, the driver napped in his car until he got authorization to leave the following morning.

“This was at a point when we had about 20 bodies lying outside,” Fair said. What are patients supposed to think, he asked, when they see “these bodies of people who were very recently next to them in the clinic, outside, with no dignity whatsoever, in the rain?”

___

“DISORGANIZED AND LATE TO THE PARTY”

The problems that hamstrung the Ebola response have prompted soul-searching at WHO and across the public health community. The WHO-commissioned review was one of no fewer than five different inquiries set up to evaluate the world’s bungled response.

“WHO does not have a culture of rapid decision-making and tends to adopt a reactive, rather than a proactive, approach to emergencies,” WHO’s 28-page report said. It went on to say: “There seems to have been a hope that the crisis could be managed by good diplomacy rather than by scaling up emergency action.”

WHO has vowed to overhaul its emergency response system, but has not censured any senior officials who oversaw its Ebola efforts. They remain employed by the agency, except for its Africa director, who retired after serving out his term.

Aylward, the WHO official, said he believes fear and resistance from locals were more powerful drivers of the epidemic than any mistakes by WHO or anyone else.

Dr. Brima Kargbo, Sierra Leone’s chief medical officer, defended the government’s response to the crisis and said that the greatest setbacks were caused by community resistance.

“To me I don’t think there is anything different from what we are supposed to do as a government,” he said of any lessons learned from the outbreak.

Redlener, the disaster preparedness expert, said he doesn’t think things will be much different the next time a global health crisis strikes, namely because the top WHO leaders remain in place.

“We’ve already seen what the old leadership at WHO has been able to do, so I don’t know why we would expect them to be able to right themselves,” he said.

Redlener said that while nearly every response to a major emergency is flawed, WHO’s level of dysfunction during Ebola was exceptional, noting that the agency wasn’t just stretched for cash, as many have suggested.

“By the time WHO got in there, they were disorganized and late to the party,” he said. “When WHO failed to provide that leadership, it was demoralizing for the other agencies and for the rest of the world.”

___

Cheng and Satter reported from London and Paris. Associated Press writers Jamey Keaten in Geneva and Lisa Leff in San Francisco contributed to this report.

___

Online:

Maria Cheng can be reached at: https://twitter.com/mylcheng

Raphael Satter can be reached at: http://raphae.li

Krista Larson can be reached at: https://twitter.com/klarsonafrica

Lisa Leff can be reached at: https://twitter.com/scoopscout

___

WHO’s Ebola emails: —http://apne.ws/1P9KpWt

Copyright 2015 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Afro

Bill Introduced to Improve Maternal Healthcare

THE AFRO — Expectant mothers face challenges when seeking quality prenatal care in the District of Columbia.  Economic and transportation barriers contribute to the District’s infant mortality rate which is amongst the worst in the nation. In 2018 there were an average of 36.1 deaths for every 100,000 live births while nationally the rate is 20.7.

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D.C. City Council member Charles Allen wrote a bill in support of expanding maternal health care opportunities to expectant mothers. (Courtesy Photo)

By Mark F. Gray

Expectant mothers face challenges when seeking quality prenatal care in the District of Columbia.  Economic and transportation barriers contribute to the District’s infant mortality rate which is amongst the worst in the nation. In 2018 there were an average of 36.1 deaths for every 100,000 live births while nationally the rate is 20.7.

The D.C. City Council is pondering a bill that pushes for better maternal health care services that would be covered under all forms of insurance in an attempt to provide better prenatal care for expectant mothers in the District.

Ward 6 Councilmember Charles Allen introduced legislation that proposes expanding the list of medical care provisions for expectant mothers. The Maternal Health Care Improvement and Expansion Act of 2019 would also create a Center for Maternal Wellness and includes a travel stipend to aid in transportation so patients can reach their preferred health care provider consistently during pregnancy.

“We know women need more access to health care during and after a pregnancy,” Allen said in his statement. “We know community-centered health care can improve outcomes.”

However, Black mothers are facing more dangerous outcomes during their pregnancies.  Figures reported by Allen’s office state Black women are dying at a rate that is three to four times higher than White expectant mothers.  Low income mothers are struggling to gain consistent regular preventive, prenatal and postpartum care which is contributing to the D.C.’s high maternal mortality rate also.

“Last year, this Council created a Maternal Mortality Review Committee, but we don’t have to wait for results to make improvements,” said Allen.

The bill, which was co-sponsored by Councilmember Vincent Gray, would require private insurers, Medicaid, and the D.C. Healthcare Alliance to add pre and post natal services to it’s benefits.  It would cover at least two postpartum health care visits and home visits for maternal care and fertility preservation services. Currently, Medicaid only includes one postpartum visit after six weeks and ends postpartum medical coverage at 60 days.

Allen’s proposal addresses the barriers facing patients who find it difficult when traveling to their health care provider by offering financial assistance for travel to and from prenatal and postpartum visits.  Transportation availability is seen as a vital cog in the hope of improving infant survival rates in D.C.

“We know for some women transportation is a barrier,” Allen stated. “That’s why this bill also includes a travel stipend to get to their preferred health care provider. If we can’t get people there, none of these other changes will make a difference.”

This bill would extend coverage to one full year for extremely low income residents who are living well below the federal poverty line.

The bill also calls for establishing a Center on Maternal Health and Wellness. Allen wants to build community among women who are pregnant and would consolidate a portion of services to be conveniently available in one location.  The Center would offer childcare onsite while making its services available through telehealth and online.

At the Center, a group of maternal care coordinators would advise pregnant mothers on how to navigate through the services available in the District during pregnancy and postpartum.  It will promote maternal support groups and provide health and nutrition counseling, and distribute prenatal vitamins. Group counseling services would also be available for individuals or family members who have been impacted by an infant’s or mother’s death. This is similar to the District’s comprehensive breastfeeding center. 

“We know a sense of community can help pregnant women and new mothers talk through challenges,” said Allen.

This article originally appeared in The Afro

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Community

The future of health begins with you

MILWAUKEE TIMES WEEKLY — The All of Us Research Program is a large research program that may last for at least 10 years. It is collecting information for the largest ever data bank of information. The goal is to help researchers understand more about why people get sick or stay healthy. People who join will share with us information about their health, habits, and what it’s like where they live. By looking for patterns, researchers may learn more about what affects people’s health. We hope you will get involved.

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By The Milwaukee Times Weekly

The All of Us Research Program is a large research program that may last for at least 10 years. It is collecting information for the largest ever data bank of information. The goal is to help researchers understand more about why people get sick or stay healthy. People who join will share with us information about their health, habits, and what it’s like where they live. By looking for patterns, researchers may learn more about what affects people’s health. We hope you will get involved.

The All of Us Wisconsin consortium is asking you to get involved as the information you share will be contributing to research that may improve health for everyone and for generations to come. All of Us will ask you to share basic information like your name and where you live; questions about your health, family history, home, and work. If you have an electronic health record (EHR), All of Us may ask for access. You may also be asked to give samples, like blood or urine.

The National Institute of Health (NIH) has created a national educational tour with a bus load of information. The All of Us Journey Bus will tour in Milwaukee. We invite families from across the Milwaukee community to visit the All of Us Journey Bus while it’s here in Milwaukee at one of the following locations:

Wednesday, August 7, 2019
94th Annual Session – Community Resource Fair General Baptist State Convention of Wisconsin Way of the Cross Missionary Baptist Church
1401 West Hadley (corner of Center Street and Teutonia Avenue)
10 a.m. – 2 p.m.

Thursday, August 8, 2019
United Community Center (UCC)
1028 South 9th Street
11 a.m. – 4 p.m.

Friday, August 9, 2019
Milwaukee Health Services
2555 North Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Drive
1 p.m. – 7 p.m.

Saturday, August 10, 2019
UMOS
2701 South Chase Avenue
9 a.m. – 1 p.m.

Sunday, August 11, 2019
St. Ann’s Intergenerational Care- Bucyrus Campus
2450 West North Avenue
1 p.m. – 4 p.m.

If you are interested in learning more about the All of Us Research program, we invite you to a community lunch and learn on Wednesday, August 7, 2019 11:30 a.m. – 1:00 p.m. For details and reservations, please call (414) 264-6869 no later than Wednesday, July 31, 2019.

To learn more and to enroll:

Visit us at: JoinAllofUs.org
Email us at: allofus@mcw.edu
Call: 414-955-2689

This article originally appeared in the Milwaukee Times Weekly
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Family

Why do fewer blacks survive childhood cancers?

MILWAUKEE TIMES WEEKLY — The relationship between race and the outcome for a number of cancers among whites, Hispanics and blacks in the United States have certainly started to become more evident and clearer. A new study finds, poverty is a major reason why black and Hispanic children with some types of cancer have lower survival rates than white patients.

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By The Milwaukee Times Weekly

The relationship between race and the outcome for a number of cancers among whites, Hispanics and blacks in the United States have certainly started to become more evident and clearer. A new study finds, poverty is a major reason why black and Hispanic children with some types of cancer have lower survival rates than white patients.

Researchers examined U.S. government data on nearly 32,000 black, Hispanic and white children who were diagnosed with cancer between 2000 and 2011. For several cancers, whites were much more likely to survive than blacks and Hispanics.

Rebecca Kehm and her University of Minnesota colleagues wondered whether those differences were due to socioeconomic status – that is, one’s position based on income, education and occupation.

Their conclusion: It had a significant effect on the link between race/ethnicity and survival for acute myeloid leukemia as well as acute lymphoblastic leukemia, neuroblastoma and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

For blacks compared to whites, socioeconomic status reduced the link between race/ethnicity and survival by 44 percent and 28 percent for the two leukemias; by 49 percent for neuroblastoma; and by 34 percent for non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

For Hispanics compared to whites, the reductions were 31 percent and 73 percent for the two leukemias; 48 percent for neuroblastoma; and 28 percent for non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

Socioeconomic status was not a major factor in survival disparities for other types of childhood cancer, including central nervous system tumors, soft tissue sarcomas, Hodgkin’s lymphoma, Wilms tumor and germ cell tumors, the researchers said.

“These findings provide insight for future intervention efforts aimed at closing the survival gap,” Kehm said in a journal news release.

“For cancers in which socioeconomic status is a key factor in explaining racial and ethnic survival disparities, behavioral and supportive interventions that address social and economic barriers to effective care are warranted,” she said.

“However, for cancers in which survival is less influenced by socioeconomic status, more research is needed on underlying differences in tumor biology and drug processing,” Kehm added.

For more information on acute myeloid leukemia, visit the Health Conditions page on BlackDoctor.org.

SOURCE: Cancer, news release, Aug. 20, 2018

This article originally appeared in the Milwaukee Times Weekly
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Dr. Patrice Harris Sworn-In as the American Medical Association’s First Black Female President

NNPA NEWSWIRE — “And I hope to be tangible evidence for young girls and young boys and girls from communities of color that you can aspire to be a physician. Not only that, you can aspire to be a leader in organized medicine,” said Dr. Patrice A. Harris, a psychiatrist from Atlanta, was sworn-in as the 174th president of the American Medical Association (AMA).

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“We are no longer at a place where we can tolerate the disparities that plague communities of color, women, and the LGBTQ community. But we are not yet at a place where health equity is achieved in those communities,” she said. (Photo by Reginald Duncan)
“We are no longer at a place where we can tolerate the disparities that plague communities of color, women, and the LGBTQ community. But we are not yet at a place where health equity is achieved in those communities,” she said. (Photo by Reginald Duncan)

By Stacy M. Brown, NNPA Newswire Correspondent
@StacyBrownMedia

In June, Dr. Patrice A. Harris, a psychiatrist from Atlanta, was sworn-in as the 174th president of the American Medical Association (AMA). She is the first African-American woman to hold the position.

During her inauguration ceremony in Chicago, Dr. Harris said she plans to implement effective strategies to improve healthcare education and training, combat the crisis surrounding chronic diseases, and eliminate barriers to quality patient care.

She also promised to lead conversations on mental health and diversity in the medical field.

“We face big challenges in health care today, and the decisions we make now will move us forward in a future we help create,” Dr. Harris said in a statement.

“We are no longer at a place where we can tolerate the disparities that plague communities of color, women, and the LGBTQ community. But we are not yet at a place where health equity is achieved in those communities,” she said.

According to her biography on the AMA’s website, Dr. Harris has long been a mentor, role model and an advocate.

She served on the AMA Board of Trustees since 2011, and as chair from 2016 to 2017.

Prior to that, Dr. Harris served in various leadership roles which included task forces on topics like health information technology, payment and delivery reform, and private contracting.

Dr. Harris also held leadership positions with the American Psychiatric Association, the Georgia Psychiatric Physicians Association, the Medical Association of Georgia, and The Big Cities Health Coalition, where she chaired this forum composed of leaders from America’s largest metropolitan health departments.

Growing up in Bluefield, West Virginia, Dr. Harris dreamt of entering medicine at a time when few women of color were encouraged to become physicians, according to her bio.

She spent her formative years at West Virginia University, earning a BA in psychology, an MA in counseling psychology and ultimately, a medical degree in 1992.

It was during this time that her passion for helping children emerged, and she completed her psychiatry residency and fellowships in child and adolescent psychiatry and forensic psychiatry at the Emory University School of Medicine, according to her bio.

“The saying ‘if you can see it, you can believe it’ is true,” Dr. Harris said during her swearing-in ceremony.

“And I hope to be tangible evidence for young girls and young boys and girls from communities of color that you can aspire to be a physician. Not only that, you can aspire to be a leader in organized medicine,” she said.

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Community

Best Buddies offers hope, friendship to those with special needs

WAVE NEWSPAPERS — Michelle found Best Buddies International in June 2018 as an intern with high hopes of building skills that would help her transition from the low-paying, temporary positions that gave her lots of anxiety, into a stable, well-paying job. After a few weeks in the program, she secured a position with Silicon Valley Bank and her friendly personality and hard work ethic quickly endured her to her co-workers and managers.

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Best Buddies International (Photo by: bestbuddies.org)

By Angela N. Parker

MAKING A DIFFERENCE:

Michelle found Best Buddies International in June 2018 as an intern with high hopes of building skills that would help her transition from the low-paying, temporary positions that gave her lots of anxiety, into a stable, well-paying job.

After a few weeks in the program, she secured a position with Silicon Valley Bank and her friendly personality and hard work ethic quickly endured her to her co-workers and managers.

For Michelle, who lives with intellectual and developmental disabilities, securing the job has been a turning point in her life, helping her come out of her shell and become the independent woman she always wanted to be. Since starting her job, she has gotten married, and her increase in income has allowed her to move out of her parents’ home into an apartment with her husband.

“Because of my job at Silicon Valley Bank, I was able to move into my own apartment with my husband,” Michelle said. “Having my own home made me feel more independent. Best Buddies is important to me because they helped me get my dream job at SVB.

Founded in 1989 by Anthony K. Shriver, Best Buddies is a vibrant organization that has grown from one original chapter to nearly 2,900 chapters worldwide, positively impacting the lives of more than 1.25 million children and adults with and without intellectual and developmental disabilities.

Best Buddies programs engage participants in each of the 50 states and in 54 countries around the world.  The organization is dedicated to establishing a global volunteer movement through its four pillars that focus on creating opportunities for one-to-one friendships, integrated employment, leadership development and inclusive living for individuals.

“We are an organization that live out our mission every day,” said Erica Mangham, California state director. “I’m proud about everything we do at Best Buddies. Most recently, we hired a person who has autism as our office assistant in the Los Angeles Office. We are living out our second pillar.”

Mangham has worked in nonprofit spaces for more than 20 years as either an employee, a volunteer, or a member of a board, but working at Best Buddies is a personal and a conscious decision for the mom whose youngest daughter has special needs.

“[Best Buddies works to give participants] a sense of independence, freedom and a feeling of belonging,” Mangham said. “[We want them to] have a friend, a true friend, it’s just that simple. Everyone needs a friend or someone who believes in them and with the help of Best Buddies we make that hope or wish a reality.”

Mangham credits the success of the program to its dedicated and mission-focused staff, volunteers, donors and founder. However, like most nonprofits, the organization is in need of continuous funding to continue the programs that are critical to its mission.

Each year, Best Buddies host a Friendship Walk in May and they also put on an annual gala called Champion of the Year.

“We hope that people reading this will think about supporting us by coming to these events and helping us raise much-needed funds,” Mangham said. “In addition to the funding, we need more employer partnerships and expansion of schools.

Mangham hopes that the support of the community will allow Best Buddies to continue to transform the lives of men and women who want to live full, independent lives. Right now, 84% of people with intellectual or developmental disabilities are unemployed, and the organization has made its mission for the future to lower that statistic.

“My wish for Best Buddies is that we continue to be laser focused on the mission to ensure that our participants are living out an inclusive life, in the workforce and in school, in ways that are the norm, not the exception,” Mangham said.

INFORMATION BOX

Name: Erica Mangham

Title: California State Director

Organization: Best Buddies International 

Social Media:  https://www.bestbuddies.org/

This article originally appeared in the Wave Newspapers

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Bodden Foundation to Address Mental Health

THE AFRO — Former NFL defensive back and Prince George’s County native Leigh Bodden knows all too well about dealing with pain and putting on a brave face.  Most of Bodden’s contemporaries hid behind the mask on the field and in the locker room, as it was recognized as a sign of weakness if there were moments of vulnerability that exposed mental health issues.

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The Leigh Bodden Foundation in partnership with Lauryn’s Law, is collaborating to raise awareness about the causes of suicide and mental illness in Maryland. (Courtesy Photo)

By Mark F. Gray

Former NFL defensive back and Prince George’s County native Leigh Bodden knows all too well about dealing with pain and putting on a brave face.  Most of Bodden’s contemporaries hid behind the mask on the field and in the locker room, as it was recognized as a sign of weakness if there were moments of vulnerability that exposed mental health issues.

Bodden has also seen how the effects of not dealing with mental health issues can have fatal consequences.  So as he did during his eight-year pro football career, he’s attacking the unspoken killer of so many people in his community head on.

The Leigh Bodden Foundation in partnership with Lauryn’s Law, is collaborating to raise awareness about the causes of suicide and mental illness in Maryland.  It will kickoff during a charity kickball game August 4 at Bowie Baysox Stadium. A group of local celebrities and former professional athletes will compete following the Baltimore Orioles Minor League affiliate’s game.  Their goal is to address these very personal issues that plague so many Americans and raise money to help those who have been affected.

“There are stresses in life that affect people in different ways,” Bodden told the AFRO.  “People need to understand when they need to talk to someone about their problems they shouldn’t be ashamed.  Suicide is not like cancer or HIV, its a silent killer.”

Bodden personally understands the devastation of mental health issues leading to suicide.  When he played for the New England Patriots, two of his former teammates would ultimately take their lives prematurely.  He recalls how Hall of Fame linebacker Junior Seau was one of the most gregarious and fun loving players in the locker room.  However, after he retired his life spiraled downward to the point where he committed suicide by shooting himself in the chest in 2012.

Former Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez also led a destructive life, which ended his career as he appeared to be on the cusp of greatness.  After signing a massive free agent contract he was convicted of killing Odin Lloyd and sentenced to life in prison in a well publicized case. He also ended his life by committing suicide while in jail.

Those deaths were attributed to chronic traumatic encephalopathy

known as CTE. CTE is a degenerative brain disease that has been linked to repeated hits to the head and is common in former NFL players who have taken their lives.  The onset of CTE developed because of brain damage that began while Seau and Hernandez were playing football.

However, the game changer for Bodden was the death of his best friend Barry who committed suicide after struggling with personal issues that he never talked about.  Barry never opened up about the feelings that were beneath the surface after he had been bullied. Bodden still recounts how he could have been an ear to listen for his fallen friend.

To honor that relationship, “Barry’s Game” is what the charity kickball game will be known as, and it also served as the impetus for his foundation to partner with Lauryn’s Law.  Lauryn’s Law requires that school counselors receive proper training to spot warning signs of mental illness, trauma, violence or substance abuse.

The law was passed in 2013 after Lauryn Santiago took her own life at 15 years-old. In the months leading up to Lauryn’s death, her mother Linda Diaz, was aware that her child was facing difficulty at school. Lauryn’s mother reached out to the school and asked for the counselor to set up a meeting with Lauryn about being bullied but it was too late.

This article originally appeared in The Afro

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