With the current pandemic, there are many individuals, especially in the Black community, who are skeptical about taking the COVID-19 vaccine. On Wednesday, February 24, the Southern University Agriculture Center held a discussion panel with professionals in the medical field. The purpose of this event is to go over the health disparities of the community. During this discussion, the panelist went over topics like the Tuskegee Experiment, why there is distrust of the medical field, and the All of Us Research Program.
Hosted by Ms. Krystle Allen, Ms. Nicolette Gordon, and Ms. Allison Ezidore-Tassin, representatives from the SU Agriculture Center, there was a full panel of various medical professionals. For the event, we had Dr. Delveatre D. Clements, a Clinical Pharmacist Program Manager, Dr. Rosalynn Thyssen, an Assistant Professor for the Southern University Nursing school, Nurse Tulonda Jackson, an Infection Control Specialist and Performance Improvement Coordinator at Houston Methodist hospital, Dr. Natalie Clark, the Pharmacy Manager at Kearney Park Compounding Pharmacy, and Dr. B. Katherine Karlay, the Psychiatry Resident Physician at the University of Texas Southwestern. Along with the panelists, there was a special guest, Ms. Jakara Eason, a Group Counselor for All of Us and the Senior Events Manager for Venn Strategies. Together these women got to the bottom of what they felt like was the root issue of the distrust of medicine. The first topic of the evening was going over the Tuskegee Experiment and its major impact on the Black community.
The Tuskegee Experiment is the 1932 study called the “Tuskegee Study of Untreated Syphilis in the Negro Male.” This study involved 600 black male volunteers, who were being treated for syphilis. Even though most of the men did not have syphilis, but still took part in the experiment due to them being told that they are being treated for “bad blood”. When going over the information of this experiment Ms. Tassin said that “Although originally projected to last 6 months, the study actually went on for 40 years, the entire time the participants assuming they were being treated. Instead, the government was purposely letting their disease progress for the study.” For doctors to get participants willing to come for constant treatments like fake medicine and painful and potentially dangerous spinal taps, doctors would send letters of promotional hype stating things like “Last Chance for Special Free Treatment.” By the time the experiment was exposed in 1972, of the 600 volunteers, 28 men died from syphilis, 100 others died from related complications, about 40 wives got infected and 19 children had contracted the disease at birth. This experiment happened less than 50 years ago but is considered one of the reasons why there is constant distrust with health providers and medical researchers.
Following the explanation of the Tuskegee Experiment, the panelist began discussing how they can get the black community to trust modern medicine once again like the COVID-19 vaccine. This section of the event had a lot of good responses and suggestions on rebuilding said trust. There were suggestions like letting patients know the data, encouraging patients to be their self-advocates, removing the fear patients feel, etc. For this part of the discussion, Dr. Thyssen talked about health equities as a practical way to help rebuild trust. She said “…we remove any obstacle that is preventing them [patients] from being healthy whether it be access to care, money issues.” Overall, this part of the discussion supplied plenty of positive ways to bridge the gap of distrust.
The concluding section of the event had Ms. Eason going over the All of Us Research Program. According to Ms. Eason, the “All of Us” program is “a historic, longitudinal effort to gather data from one million or more people living in the United State to create a diverse health database that represents us all.” While researching this program considers individual life circumstances, socioeconomics, environments, and biology to get the best precision medicine for everyone. For those who may not know, precision medicine is a new and emerging approach for disease treatment.
The purpose of precision medicine is for scientists to produce the best possible care options based on our unique genetic makeup. Some of these precision medicines we use every day in our lives like prescription eyeglasses, insulin pumps, blood transfusions, and hearing aids. For more information on this program, students can visit the website Joinallofus.org/BatonRouge. After the explanation of the “All of Us” program, the event ended. The panelists gave their closing remarks and based on the success of this event Southern University students can expect more events like this from the Agriculture Center.