Black doctors group wants AIDS tackled
The National Medical Association also seeks universal health care
The National Medical Association, which represents black physicians, is urging the federal government to use its resources to eradicate HIV/AIDS, says Dr. Albert W. Morris Jr., president.
From 2001 to 2005, nearly 70 percent of newly diagnosed cases of HIV/AIDS were in black women, Morris said in an interview. About 49 percent of patients living with the disease in the United States are black, he said.
"We issued a call of action to the federal government to re-examine this terrible, terrible epidemic."
HIV/AIDS is among major issues being discussed by more than 4,000 delegates attending the association's annual Convention and Scientific Assembly this week at the Hawaii Convention Center.
Morris, a diagnostic radiologist in Memphis, Tenn., said the association previously passed a resolution asking for universal testing of all patients for HIV/AIDS.
Most patients have the virus five or more years before it is diagnosed, he said. "There's a huge opportunity for them to infect lots of other people before they find out they have the disease. Most people are responsible once they know they have the virus, but, if they don't know, they may be engaging in high-risk behavior."
Prisons should test inmates before releasing them into the community because the HIV rate is higher in the prison system's re-entry population, he said.
Universal health care is another concern of association members, he said. Reflecting on that possibility after the next presidential election, he said, "It will be a matter of political will. A lot of people make a tremendous amount of money out of health care, and it's no longer the physician."
Morris said the association believes universal health care "is the only logical solution to making sure that children are covered ... that you are able to administer preventive care that's going to allow you either to delay or eliminate chronic diseases."
It would also ensure that people with catastrophic illnesses or accidents "don't delete all their resources in order to stay alive," he said.
The National Medical Association represents 30,000 black physicians, primarily in the United States but also around the world, Morris said. But they total only 4 percent to 5 percent of physicians in this country, he said, citing the cost of medical school education as one reason.
A fundamental change is needed in the way medical school is financed, he said, saying that a medical student graduating now has more than $100,000 in loans that must be repaid, and some owe $250,000. As a result, students select high-paying specialties or subspecialty areas, he said.
"What we really need in our community are primary care doctors," he said, "but if the debt load is too high, it becomes very difficult for them to do that and be financially responsible."
The association emphasizes integrated and interdisciplinary health care to provide maximum benefit for patients, Morris said.
"I don't think we'll ever get to the point where we'll be satisfied with the level of health care delivered to our patients. There are always so many new things coming out to raise the bar."
For instance, he said, on a visit to the National Institutes of Health, he saw a device similar to a contact lens with a bar at the bottom of it that tells the person the glucose level in the blood. "You could look in a mirror or compact and get a very good range of what your glucose is and whether to take medication."