Independence Blue Cross and the Philadelphia Tribune have announced a public health awareness campaign focused on combating the disproportionate rates of diabetes, obesity and cardiovascular disease impacting the African-American community.

The “Our Community. Our Health” campaign aims to create a sense of urgency around this dire problem, address health care disparities and educate people about achievable ways to improve their health.

Data from organizations like the American Diabetes Association and American Heart Association show that African Americans face alarming rates of these three chronic health problems. These illnesses not only diminish quality of life, but also often cut lives short, contributing to a nearly four-year gap in life expectancy between African Americans and their white counterparts, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

Exacerbating these already difficult circumstances is the COVID-19 pandemic, which has made clear the disparities in health care. Longstanding systemic health and social inequities cause African Americans to be at increased risk of getting sick and dying from COVID-19. In Philadelphia, African Americans have accounted for nearly 60% of COVID-19 hospitalizations, according to the Philadelphia Department of Public Health.

“The fact the Tribune is partnering with Independence Blue Cross about these health maladies that are disproportionately and negatively impacting on the African-American community is very important to us,” said Tribune President and CEO Robert W. Bogle.

“The Tribune has been the voice of the African-American community for 137 years, and to ensure that we do all we can to deliver messages that affect us, is a role that we do and should play.”

The campaign will address health care inequities and provide access to health and nutrition services, such as healthy lifestyle counseling. Nutrition — along with other healthy habits — plays a critical role in overall health and can effectively help prevent and manage diabetes, obesity and cardiovascular disease.

“We are deeply concerned about the health disparities that are seriously hurting the African-American community. Everyone deserves good health,” said Independence President and CEO Daniel J. Hilferty.

“We are proud to partner with The Philadelphia Tribune, which is such a bedrock of the community in Philadelphia, on this important effort.”

“Especially during this pandemic, it is crucial that we come together and take extensive measures to save lives and create a healthy future for generations to come,” said Gregory E. Deavens, Independence executive vice president, chief financial officer and treasurer.

“We hope this campaign will show people that change is within their grasp, and that better health is possible.”

Serving as campaign ambassadors will be Philadelphia Sheriff Rochelle Bilal; U.S. Rep. Dwight Evans (D-Philadelphia); Rev. Marshall Mitchell, pastor of Salem Baptist Church; Sharmain Matlock Turner, president and CEO of the Urban Affairs Coalition; and Rev. Alyn Waller, senior pastor of Enon Tabernacle Baptist Church. Those leaders will help educate community members by sharing information about the chronic conditions and how to receive health and nutrition screenings.

Waller said the campaign aligns with Enon’s work in addressing health issues within the community.

“I think that there are a couple of messages in this campaign — number one, be proactive, number two, health insurance is important and younger people should not roll the dice on the option of health insurance because you just never know when you are going to need it,” he said.

“We need to challenge the system to recognize the disparities. We in the African-American community need to understand that we are on the underside of the health disparities conversation. When America gets a cold, the Black community has pneumonia.”

Evans said he wants to bring attention to how health disparities are impacting the community.

“I want to use myself as part of the platform to raise the question about health disparities and the need to bring attention to these communities of color,” he said.

As focus has been placed on developing a COVID-19 vaccine, Evans acknowledged that some African Americans mistrust vaccines.

“The issue with vaccines is there has always been a trust issue in the African-American community, particularly when you think about the Tuskegee experiment,” he said.

“So I want to stress the importance of African Americans being aware and being in tune to what takes place.”

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