The National Black Muslim COVID Coalition hosted an online conference - Medical Apartheid, COVID and Black Muslims: What You Need to Know, on Wednesday evening, highlighting the unique issues COVID-19 presents for Black people and the Black Muslim community.
The Coalition was formed in March “to address the need for effective planning, preparedness, and organizing in Black Muslim communities during the pandemic.”Wednesday’s conference was one of several the group has hosted to speak to medical, family and personal issues.
“This is a way for us to begin to discuss what is needed for our community to tackle this pandemic,” said Kameelah Mu’Min Rashad, Co-founder of the Coalition. “One of the things I’ve noticed is that misinformation about the coronavirus seems to be spreading as quickly as the virus itself. During this global pandemic, it’s essential we think about our unique experiences, our faith, our cultural resilience - all of this plays a role in how this moment will impact us. Our goal is to disseminate accurate information and share best practices.”
Dr. Safiyya Shabazz, Owner and Medical Director of the Mt. Airy-based Fountain Medical Associates, PC began the discussion with an explanation of the disease, stating that although coronaviruses have been around for a while, a novel strain is causing the current health crisis.
“There are many [types] of coronaviruses, including the coronavirus that causes the common cold. You can also have more harmful strains, some have become deadly such as SARS which is almost identical to COVID-19,” said Dr. Shabazz. “COVID-19 is the more specific description of the illness caused by the current novel strain of coronavirus. It’s a public health crisis that’s rapidly spreading because none of us have been exposed. It is more easily spread because we don't know how to recognize it, it’s very contagious and it’s spreading rapidly.”
Because of this spread, Shabazz and Dr. Noor Jihan Abdul-Haqq, Owner and Medical Director of the Oklahoma-based Peace of Mind Pediatrics said the social-distancing guideline mandated by the government is crucial, even if it interferes with faith-based traditions, including theirs.
“The most important thing we can do is that social distancing,” said Dr. Shabazz. “From a spiritual standpoint, the Hadith says ‘If you hear of an outbreak…a plague in a land, do not enter it.’ This is what we were given by the Prophet Muhammad. You should follow that.”
For Ramadan, an Islamic holy month which is set to begin the last week in April, the doctors gave the same instruction.
“This is going to be very difficult,” said Dr. Haqq. “I pray we are able to connect elders [and] can set them up [online.] I think we have to be creative and see how we can get everybody [online]. How can we make it more communal? I think it’s going to be difficult but very important because we want to be present for Eid. If we don't practice social distancing, we are going to be having janazah, after janazah, after janazah.”
In general, the doctors said Black people have to be mindful about their lifestyle during the pandemic because of diseases such as high blood pressure, stroke, obesity and diabetes that they already suffer from in disproportionate numbers. If someone suffers from any of these, their risk of dying from COVID-19 increases because it attacks the respiratory system.
“If you have high blood pressure or diabetes, you should be hiding in your home. Those [diseases] that make a huge difference whether you live or die are things a lot of my patients are affected with. [And] now is not the time to land yourself in a hospital because they don't have room for you,” said Dr. Shabazz.
“You need to be on your best health behavior because you don't want to be anywhere near a hospital if you can help it. A key thing people need to understand is that many people are dying because of coronavirus because…the virus has a negative effect on the heart. Heart disease, high blood pressure are conditions that weaken the heart. We don't fully understand it but if all these things increase the risk of heart disease and the disease attacks the heart, that is something to keep in mind.”
Dr. Haqq agreed, noting that eating healthy and exercising are also important to help fight off infections.
“We eat way too much sugar, we eat way too many processed foods,” she said. “Every Walmart I go into has a bag of carrots for $2. A lot of these food pantries give fresh produce. It’s hard to teach new habits to people who have centuries of bad diets that we have to overcome. On the West coast, the younger people you hear about passing away were pre-diabetic or overweight. I normally manage type one diabetes but now I have all these type 2 [diabetes] teenagers, usually [caused] by a sugar filed diet. It’s important we start to improve. The reality is if you have those [diseases], Are you taking your medication? Are you getting fresh air? Are you eating well? Don't let anxiety [from] a diagnosis control your life. Change your habits.”
Speaking on a history of mistrust Black people have had towards the medical community, Haqq added that, that has to change if health outcomes are to improve.
“It’s going to be interesting in18 months if COVID-19 comes back around, how many of us will be at a disadvantage because of mistrust,” she said. “We are now putting ourselves into these places so we can help monitor and if we see something going on we are going to speak out. I know it’s very difficult to trust. [But] some of the trust has to be given back to those of us who are physicians of color.”
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