February is observed as Black History Month to honor African Americans for their contributions and to remember their struggles for freedom and equality. While much has been done, more work is needed especially when it comes to better health outcomes for the African American community.
- Nearly half of all African American adults have some form of cardiovascular disease that includes heart disease and stroke.
- Approximately two out of every five African American adults have high blood pressure, and less than half of them have it under control putting them at a higher risk for cardiovascular disease than other groups of people.
- Cancer is the second leading cause of death among African Americans in the U.S. with African American men dying at higher rates than men of other races and ethnicities. African American women have the highest rates of dying from cancer even though white women have the highest rates of getting cancer.
- African Americans are also less likely to participate in physical activities and eat fewer vegetables than other racial or ethnic groups with the exception of non-Hispanic whites. Both groups eat similar amounts.
What you can do:
- Eat a healthy diet and exercise regularly
- Don’t use tobacco products or smoke
- Limit alcohol use
- Know your family history and manage your medical conditions
Remembering and Recognizing the Contributions of African-Americans in Public Health
Franklin County Public Health celebrates the history of African-Americans during Black History Month by honoring their leadership in public health.
One in particular named Onesimus, an African slave in Boston, helped to save generations from the smallpox epidemic of 1721.
Inoculation (vaccination) was introduced to America by a slave. Few details are known about the birth of Onesimus, but it is assumed he was born in Africa in the late seventeenth century before eventually landing in Boston. One of a thousand people of African descent living in the Massachusetts colony, Onesimus was a gift to the Puritan church minister Cotton Mather from his congregation in 1706.
Onesimus told Mather about the centuries old tradition of inoculation practiced in Africa. By extracting the material from an infected person and scratching it into the skin of an uninfected person, you could deliberately introduce smallpox to the healthy individual making them immune. Considered extremely dangerous at the time, Cotton Mather convinced Dr. Zabdiel Boylston to experiment with the procedure when a smallpox epidemic hit Boston in 1721 and over 240 people were inoculated. Opposed politically, religiously and medically in the United States and abroad, public reaction to the experiment put Mather and Boylston’s lives in danger despite records indicating that only 2% of patients requesting inoculation died compared to the 15% of people not inoculated who contracted smallpox.
Onesimus’ traditional African practice was used to inoculate American soldiers during the Revolutionary War and introduced the concept of inoculation (vaccination) to the United States.
Learn more about Onesimus.
Others, who made considerable contributions to improve public health, include 12 leaders in the nursing and medical fields, who stood up to racial discrimination and changed healthcare.