Getting to Know the National Medical Association

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The National Medical Association is a physician organization that is keenly aware of the healthcare problems facing the African American community. Since 1895, the NMA has worked to advance the wellbeing of African Americans through education, advocacy, and health policy. Today, it represents the interests of more than 30,000 African American physicians as well as millions of healthcare consumers.

Because of its experience and deep involvement with the African American community, the NMA is uniquely positioned to advocate for a national healthcare policy that ensures quality, equitable and affordable care for all. NMA leaders have testified in Congressional hearings and met with representatives from the highest level of government regarding the need to make resources available so that all Americans can have greater access to health care. In the effort to reform the nation’s health policy, the NMA has created strong alliances and partnerships with corporations, educational institutions, religious and community groups, and with other medical associations.

Fighting Against Health Disparities

At the heart of NMA’s policy agenda is its longstanding fight against the elimination of health disparities. Within the African American community, the estimated number of annual excess deaths is 130,000. "Excess death" represents an actual body count. It’s the difference between how many African Americans in a given year would not die if they shared the same mortality rate of white Americans.

Other statistics also point to a disturbingly inequitable–and unacceptable–healthcare picture. For instance, African Americans lead the nation in 12 of the top 15 leading causes of death, including heart disease, cancer, stroke, kidney disease, hypertension, obesity and diabetes. Higher mortality rates for African Americans exist at all age categories–from infants to seniors.

In speaking out against health disparities, the NMA has long called for universal health coverage as a way to overcome health inequities, and is pushing universal coverage as a key priority for the next US president. Only until people are able to have access to quality, affordable health care can there be a substantial reduction in health disparities. We must secure universal access to health care for all Americans. We need to support those legislative efforts that seek to ensure adequate health insurance for all Americans.

Individual Responsibility Is Key

Not only do government and private entities have a role to play, but the NMA emphasizes that individuals have a responsibility to improve their personal health status. For example, the nationwide propensity toward obesity could be dramatically curbed, if not completely eliminated, if people took steps to change their lifestyle.

Factors contributing to the obesity epidemic include greater overall consumption, increased sedentary behavior, and the wider availability of food (with fast food restaurants and vending machines at seemingly every corner). If people would just reverse those trends– eat less, participate in regular physical activity (30 minutes per day is recommended), and make wiser food selections–they would see significant health benefits.

The accumulation of small lifestyle changes can make a big difference in one’s weight management and overall health. For instance, taking the stairs (rather than the elevator) for a total of just two minutes, five days a week, provides the same calorie–burning results as a 20–minute walk, and saves energy, too.

Other simple lifestyle tips: In addition to eating more fruits and vegetables, cut back on foods and beverages with added sugars; eat fish a couple of times a week for healthy Omega–3 fatty acids; choose foods with little or no salt; and select fat–free or low–fat dairy products.

Healthcare Reform Demands United Effort

As the "conscience of American medicine," the NMA sees its role as an advocate of health promotion and disease prevention–on all fronts. Health promotion and disease prevention require a cohesive effort that involves government resources, private initiatives, and individual commitment. By living healthy, keeping medical costs down, and being able to access quality care when needed, all of America benefits. And we come closer to the day when health disparities are a thing of the past.

The challenge of eliminating health disparities is an awesome burden and responsibility–and yet, we must not tire. We cannot afford to step aside. We have no choice but to re–energize and embolden our efforts as we continue the fight for health equity.

Headquartered in Washington, DC, the National Medical Association has numerous chapters and affiliates throughout the US. It publishes a quarterly medical journal, develops position papers and scientific abstracts, coordinates medical research, sponsors healthcare forums and clinics, holds an annual convention and scientific assembly, and much more. For additional information about the NMA, visit www.nmanet.org

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