Good Health for African American Kids (cont.)

Moderator: {question presented} Should all children be immunized?

Dixon: There are some proponents that think particularly in the African-American community ... I'll answer by saying that immunizations have had their place. They've saved a lot of lives and have been beneficial. Children who are exposed to diseases in which immunizations could have helped, there's no questions that there's benefit. And yet, there must be, in my mind, research that also eases our minds, eases parents' minds that the same immunizations are not causing disease, because we're skeptical. Our skepticism goes back to the Tuskegee study, and other type of studies, where African-Americans were subjected to being exposed to those diseases that they may not have been, under different circumstances. So African-Americans need to feel that this is not a detriment, and understand what the purpose is.

Dixon: Secondly, are they harmful? Can I be healthy without them? If I take a flu shot and I get the flu... it's being viewed as not being a healthy thing to do. They have a place, but no... there's not enough education in our community to explain the importance. Further, are they totally safe? So all these issues are important here.

Moderator: {question presented} How can I tell if my child should not be immunized?

Dixon: That's really between a parent and their child's pediatrician. Parents have to be comfortable with their child's pediatrician that they can ask him/her that question... because after all, their child's doctor knows more about the health problems of that child than I do... so they'd know if it would be a good time, or if there are going to be any effects, and it comes down to the child and the trust and the communication between that parent and the physician. I think the individual child's medical history would have to dictate that.

Dixon: Yes, there are alternatives. I think that most importantly, the parent let the doctor know that's an issue. Unfortunately, the child comes home frightened, and tells the mother/father at home, rather than let it be known in the doctor's office. Its not just a behavioral issue, there's certainly a real fear in some children... it may be the manner in which the shot was done. Oftentimes, the size of the syringe makes a difference... and I often say what the health care doctor is wearing... if children are relaxed, they react differently to procedures. The first thing the mother needs to convey to the practitioner, is whether the child does have the fear and what are their options. Its very important to discuss it with the doctor.

Moderator: {question presented} What particular problems are there between adolescent boys and girls in black America?

Dixon: I think so; there are a number that I see with my patients and their parents. I think that what has an influence on everything is environment. Many times, both young males and females are exposed to a negative element... they're exposed to drugs, early sex in both genders, if both parents are in the home, the whole issue of peer pressure behind smoking and drinking. I'd say that boys tend to be more affected by peer pressure than girls, but that girls are catching up with the boys.. because they find that it's cool to be members of a group. For both, there's less stress and emphasis on education as it once was. There's less parental controls for both males and females. The males also have an added responsibility, because they're often the heads of their households. And they're young boys, adolescents and teens become the male figure in the family, so they're growing up a lot faster than their female counterparts. They're living for the other siblings. I think that's probably the largest gap between the two, is the boy's sense of responsibility.

Dixon: The other thing that exists too along with that social issue, is that unfortunately, some will get in trouble early.. they may be incarcerated early... the girls may still be in school, if they're able to finish and not get pregnant, routine pregnancy is an issue in the African-American teen and community, the young man is not there. He's not a part of that young girls' life in raising a child and bringing the child into the world. The roles for both are much more escalated in my opinion in the African-American community. It has a lot to do with environment.

Moderator: {question presented} How can the African-American community help itself to increase the health consciousness for its children?

Dixon: That's an excellent question -- its really why I've written my books. Health care professionals have to get into the community; we can't fit into our offices. We have to work with the churches, in the beauty and barber shops. Our efforts have to be grassroots, to go into the communities, and be on the media, and we must write articles... we have to provide the knowledge. We have to be the message carrier, because the message carriers which have been present so far have not been effective. I think not only health officials, but the clergy, and those who influence... athletes, role models, all of us must save our children. We must bring our knowledge and our experiences, and we must support them. Knowledge is so important, because if you don't understand why things are happening, and you don't have hope, and you can't bring that to the community, we'll see the same kinds of problems for many years to come.

Moderator: {question presented} How is racism affecting health care?

Dixon: Contrary to what we'd like to believe -- and we'd like to say that this is a society of equal opportunity, but that's not the case, particularly for health care - if you're poor and black, you'll receive inferior health care. Even though on a state level, there might be Medicaid programs, we have to ask if the quality is there. I venture to say that it's not where it needs to be. Having the same doctor, and a doctor that knows you, that treats the family, the sense of that being in a clinic for five hours a day, and getting inferior treatment, and not being seen... the whole idea of our health care system today, and how a person who is not African-American speaks to African-Americans... research is showing us that not only African-Americans don't get screened, and don't have diseases discussed with them as in their white counterparts. But females, white and black, get similar treatment, too. There's no question that there's still racism with regards to delivery of health care. Those who can afford it, do get better. And even if you afford it, and are educated, you might still not get the best care and attention.