In a global pandemic, awareness and education are the pivotal keys for communities across the world to safely navigate the needs of their residents.
This mission is why the Georgia Cancer Center’s Cancer Prevention, Control & Population Health team is working with African American church leaders across Georgia to help minorities and underserved individuals understand the impact COVID-19 can have on them and their loved ones.
Early studies by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show African Americans are dying more often from coronavirus compared to other racial and ethnic groups. This led to Dr. Martha Tingen, associate director for the Cancer Prevention, Control & Population Health program, submitting a grant proposal to the Bristol Myers Squibb Foundation. After a review of submissions from across the country, Tingen and her team were awarded a $40,000 grant. The original call for proposals requested applications for no more than $20,000.
Based on data from both county and state health departments, recent analyses show counties that are majority-black have three times the rate of infections and almost six times the rate of deaths as counties where white residents are in the majority, Tingen shared.
“The cause for these disparities points to the historically disproportionate number of African Americans diagnosed with chronic diseases, including diabetes, hypertension, obesity and asthma — all of which make people more susceptible to severe illness caused by COVID-19,” she said.
Tingen and Dr. Samantha Sojourner, an assistant professor and member of the Cancer Prevention, Control & Population Health team, partnered with members of the 10th District of the General Missionary Baptist Convention of Georgia for this initiative. The grant money has addressed food insecurity for many rural counties, particularly those that do not have access to food. Many of these counties have children whose only meals are received at school through the free and reduced meal program for breakfast and lunch.
Also, public service announcements have been developed and are running on multiple television channels and radio stations. They also created billboards, educational brochures about COVID-19 and mailers with informational materials sent to households across eight Georgia counties, six rural and two urban. All information has focused on three important aspects: protect yourself and others, respect safety guidelines, and connect with reliable resources.
“We have worked successfully with Dr. Tingen and her team on previous community-based research projects,” said the Rev. Karlton Howard, president of the 10th District of the General Missionary Baptist Convention of Georgia and pastor of Noah’s Ark Baptist Church. “We are all in this COVID-19 pandemic together and African Americans are being affected most of all. We can help if we take action and follow important guidelines.”
The preventative measures include being educated about the role of social distancing, wearing a face mask or face-covering in public settings and the best way to wash one’s hands, all to lower the risk of contracting or spreading the coronavirus. The grant money is also distributing 100 “touchless” thermometers to church leaders, as well as 800 bottles of hand sanitizer, 1,000 three layered-washable masks, 80 large laminated posters for posting in the eight counties, more than 40,000 educational mailers and 4,500 meals from the Golden Harvest Food Bank.
“Most communities are completely unaware of the disparities that exist across a multitude of diseases, including COVID-19, especially in southeastern rural and urban areas,” Sojourner said. “The findings concerning COVID-19 disparities underscore the importance of preventive measures to protect those who are particularly vulnerable to severe illness, as well as the general public.”
According to Sojourner’s research, The Commonwealth Fund, a national organization working to improve health care and make it affordable and accessible for all Americans, put out its 2019 Scorecard on State Health System Performance rankings, with Georgia being 42 out of the 50 states and District of Columbia.
“The 10th District of the General Missionary Baptist Convention and Augusta University are bringing together faith, hope and health to support our communities in overcoming COVID-19,” Howard said.