Coronary heart disease is a huge problem for Mississippians. White Mississippians, in particular, wrestle with the condition. In fact, 5.6 percent of white Mississippians say they have the disease, compared with just four percent of black Mississippians.
But when it comes to dying, coronary heart disease kills far more black Mississippians than white. In 2015, black Mississippians died at a rate of 265 per 100,000. White Mississippians died at a rate of 230.5 per 100,000.
The reason for this difference is straightforward: black Mississippians often don’t have access to the same level of health care that many whites in the state do, according to Lamees El-sadek, who spoke at Millsaps College Friday on the social and economic conditions that lead to health disparities in Mississippi.
El-sadek, a former epidemiologist for the Mississippi State Department of Health who is currently pursuing a doctoral degree in public health at Harvard, spoke as part of the annual Rabbi Perry Nussbaum Lecture Series. She said such stark differences in health outcomes for the two races make it clear that “there’s no such thing as a post-racial world.”
“So even though fewer blacks report heart disease, more blacks die,” El-sadek said. “This leaves us to ask, why do people seek emergency care versus primary care? Where do blacks live? How close do they live to (hospitals and doctors)? What types of jobs do they occupy? How supportive are their jobs and is their wage and salary sufficient for them to seek care?”
A longtime rallying point for health-care advocates in Mississippi has been the Department of Health, which saw its state funds slashed 30 percent this year, going from $36 million at the beginning of 2017 to $24.5 million for fiscal year 2018, which starts July 1. While the Department of Health provides some preventative services in clinics, the majority of its services are geared towards community health, such as water and restaurant inspections, vaccinations and health and nutritional initiatives.
But Mississippi’s Department of Health currently receives less funding per capita than all but three other state health agencies in this country, at a rate of $12.28. Neighbor Alabama spends $59.22 per resident.
In 2015, the Department of Health published a statewide report identifying health disparities in Mississippi and their causes with the goal of finding solutions for these differences. It is unclear whether another one is in the works, but El-sadek said consistent data collection provides baseline measurements for evaluation.
“So we know how much we have or haven’t improved,” El-sadek said. “If we don’t count people as they deserve to be counted, their lives don’t count in our effective awareness.”
Liz Sharlot, director of communications for the Department of Health, said eliminating health disparities continues to be a priority for the department.
“There should not be certain segments of the population that continue to be unhealthy,” Sharlot said.
And yet, certain segments, particularly black Mississippians, continue to lag in many health indicators, according to El-sadek.
Type 2 diabetes, which is the eighth leading cause of death in the state, is largely considered a preventable disease. Good nutrition and regular exercise reduce the risk to almost zero. The prevalence of diabetes also decreases as a person’s level of education increases.
But black Mississippians are more than twice as likely as white Mississippians to die from Type 2 diabetes. The disease is particularly savage with black men in the state, who die at a rate of 60.5 per 100,000 versus 28.8 for white men. Black men are also 50 percent more likely to drop out of high school than white men.
“So if this is a controllable disease that has nothing to do with the innate or inherent qualities of the people who have it, what is gong on in these communities that lead to shorter lives and faster deaths?” El-sadek said.
For El-sadek, all of these questions, have one answer: racial minorities in Mississippi need better access to care.