Saturday, November 08, 2008

Lesson 5: The government isn't your nursemaid

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The organization theme comes up again when I raise a pet peeve of this magazine: That the U.S. Government maintains at least 7 offices devoted to woman's health, but no office of men's health. This despite the fact that men die earlier than women due of heart disease, stroke, and cancer. I'm hoping to enlist him in the battle.

Nothing doing.

"I'm not sure we need an office," he says. "We need to have an awareness built in throughout various agencies charged with improving health. I'll give you a specific example. My Grandfather died of prostate cancer. As men age, regular checkups are critical. But it's hard to get them to go in for that mildly unpleasant checkup. Increasing awareness of the difference it could make shouldn't just be the activity of the Department of Health and Human Services."

And then he launches into a story involving a friend of his. It's a theme he returns to again and again as we talk: a world peopled with friends who taught him lessons, reminded him of what was important, reproached him in a useful way.

"A good friend of mine who was the head of the Illinois department of public health designed this wonderful program targeting black men, where health information was provided through barbershops. The idea was that a lot of black men under utilize doctors and don't talk about health much. But they go to the barbershop, and that's where they, kind of, let loose. The department designed programs where clinics at different barbershops would provide various health screenings, talk about prevention. Those kinds of strategies have to be developed and targeted, perhaps, because a lot of the time we're more resistant to going to doctors. That kind of thinking should be embedded in a lot of the work we're doing."