A magazine for Africans and friends of Africa...Our Voices, Our Vision, Our Culture

The Tie that Binds
By Claudia Akyeampong

In a country bombarding consumers with images that “more is more”, it is not surprising that one of the most prevalent health issues affecting Americans is heart disease. Particularly high are the numbers of cases within African-American communities. Statistics from the American Heart Association have shown that among African-Americans, 10.2% have heart disease, 6.0% have coronary heart disease, 31.7% have hypertension, and 3.7% have had a stroke.

Africa has and continues to be influenced by western culture; proof of this is visible in the growing number of Africans developing heart disease. One might question how a country like the United States, abundant with healthcare resources, still has so many of its citizens not receiving the healthcare needed to maintain a high standard of health

The major risk factors for heart disease are high blood pressure, high cholesterol, smoking, obesity, and lack of physical activity. These are dilemmas in any population, and more so in the African-American community, due to the large number of African-Americans living in meager socio-economic environments.

There has been a decline in African healthcare since the 1980s, when a combination of the economic crisis and man-made errors sent several African countries spiraling into financial peril. The increasing debt?prevented many of the countries from distributing national budgets on important programs such as healthcare, education, and municipal services. Several countries turned to the World Bank the International Monetary Fund for help. These organizations demanded reforms in exchange for loans to African countries to assist with their escalating debt. This resulted in harsh measures taken on the part of these institutions to penalize these countries, which led to the abuse of resources, a deepening of poverty, the dislocation of African populations, and environmental devastation. Currently, there is an insufficient supply of funds for Africans seeking annual check-ups and even in emergency cases, many Africans are forced to go without proper hospital attention.

Even though the overall socioeconomic conditions differ, there is a seeming connection between the problems affecting Africans in the US and on the continent, contributing to the detriment of their health worldwide. In 2007, 24.5% of all African Americans in the U.S. were living at or below poverty level. Therefore the average household does not even have the financial resources to obtain standard healthcare to prevent and care for serious ailments such as heart disease.

Initially, heart disease among Africans had been linked to the high rates of malnourishment and infections stemming from the inaccessibility of healthcare. However, of late, the increasing popularity of fast-food chains in Africa can also be related to the large cases of high blood pressure and obesity rising among its people. Populations are moving from rural areas to the city in hopes of finding better paying jobs to support their families. In these cities, there is a rising influence of western culture on African food. In Accra, Ghana, the local fried chicken restaurant, Papaye, (quite similar to the popular Popeye’s Restaurant in the US) is full of mostly young people every night of the week.

“Soul Food” was born from African displacement in America. The origins of soul food can be linked back to the continent. In the start of the 14th century, European explorers began to filter their food provisions into the African diet. The fresh cassava, coco yams, coconut, plantain, maize, and papaya found in Africa were replaced by the disposed foods from the plantation house. African slaves developed recipes from these scraps such as pigs' feet, ham hocks, chitterlings, tripe and skin. Little was wasted because there was little to go around. These foods have become staples within the African-American diet and in turn have become contributors in the causes of health problems afflicting our communities.

Survival is the only conscious way of living for economically disadvantaged populations. Basic nutritional values take a back seat for many, in order to endure the everyday struggles. The access to easy-to-prepare and lack-of-quality foods is a commonality amongst Africans in the US and on the continent. Coupled with the need to earn money in order to keep households afloat, and you find an ever increasing number of hours being spent on work. Africans in the US and abroad are forced to work more, leaving less time for pounding cassava for fufu or cooking well balanced meals, resulting in quick fixes of burgers and fries.

Heart disease within the Diaspora is a direct result of socioeconomic conditions in need of urgent reform. To promote sustainable growth, the US and Africa have to respond to problems by accessing the best plans for economic growth. This includes providing individuals with sustainable employment, which will in turn lead to gradual poverty reduction. By recognizing the positive outcomes of introducing innovative industry and decent employment, it would be a step towards reducing poverty rates and improving the health of Africans here and abroad.