Jul 11 2012
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International Conference on Health in the African Diaspora 2012: Scholars React

Last week was the International Conference on Health in the African Diaspora (ICHAD), which convened experts from a variety of fields to discuss the health and social experience of African descendants in the Western hemisphere. Below, two scholars from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Center for Health Policy at Meharry Medical College who attended the conference talk about the experience. Courtney Sinclair Thomas,  BS, is a 2011 health policy fellow and doctoral student in the Department of Sociology at Vanderbilt University, and Erika Leslie, MSPH, is a 2012 health policy fellow and doctoral candidate at Vanderbilt University.

Courtney Sinclair Thomas Courtney Sinclair Thomas

Human Capital Blog: Why did you decide to attend the International Conference on Health in the African Diaspora?

Courtney Sinclair Thomas: I decided to attend ICHAD because thus far, my research has been focused on the health of African Americans in the United States. However, I realize that the shared history of the Transatlantic slave trade unites members of the Diaspora in unique ways. I wanted to learn more about the experiences of Blacks from throughout the Diaspora so that I could gain insight into the phenomenon of "race," which has such a significant impact on our health and life chances.

HCB: Please explain the ways that being a descendant of slavery can affect individual, family and population health today.

Sinclair Thomas: Being a descendent of slavery has major impacts on health today. I am interested in social determinants of health, and the experience of slavery has left an entire race at greater risk for many health conditions. This is particularly due to increased chronic stresses, discrimination, and lower social status and access to opportunities.

HCB: Any other insights from the conference you’d like to share?

Sinclair Thomas: A major insight that I’ve gained from the conference is the importance of considering a more global perspective. While it is important to be specific when identifying populations for study, it’s also important to remember that Blacks throughout the Diaspora have a collective memory that has affected their lives in similar ways even today. When trying to untangle what it is about being Black in the U.S., in Brazil, in Cuba, going back to these shared memories may perhaps shed light on issues and help us as researchers eliminate health inequity throughout the world.

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Erika Leslie Erika Leslie

HCB: Why did you decide to attend the International Conference on Health in the African Diaspora?

Erika Leslie: The conference gave me an excellent opportunity to expand my knowledge about the health of the African Diaspora. Networking with other individuals with whom I share the similar goal of advancing research that will shape health policy and provide tangible benefits for marginalized populations was an added benefit.

HCB: How does the information presented at this conference relate to, or support, your work at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Center for Health Policy at Meharry Medical College?

Leslie: At the Center, we comprehensively consider the underlying determinants of health status and health outcomes. ICHAD offered a global perspective reflective of a variety of contexts and a wide range of health concerns relevant to the social determinants of health and specifically pertinent to the African Diaspora. The conference also gave credence to the diversity that exists within the Diaspora, how these differences may affect health and the need for tailored interventions and solution-driven policy.

Watch videos of Sinclair Thomas and Leslie discussing their experience here and here.

Learn more about the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Center for Health Policy at Meharry Medical College.

Tags: Disparities, Conferences, Health education, Human Capital, Voices from the Field, Center for Health Policy at Meharry Medical College, Health & Health Care Policy, Diversity