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Capitol Heights Day brings health care to at-risk area

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Published on: Wednesday, June 26, 2013

By Tauren Dyson

Capitol Heights Day came and went on June 8, but some of the vendors left an indelible mark on the event and community.

Even as they dished out healthy heapings of live music and savory barbecue, the event organizers used the stage to raise health awareness among area residents. 

“When you look at prenatal care, diabetes and hypertension, we have some of the worse stats,” Capitol Heights Mayor Kito James said. “This initiative is targeted to help those statistics.”

Obesity is a key contributor to hypertension, which is a major cause of heart disease and diabetes — two ailments that disproportionately affect black communities. More than 40 percent of black men and 44.3 percent of black women, older than 20, have high blood pressure, according to a study published by the Centers for Disease Control in 2011.

High cholesterol, another key factor in developing heart disease, also has high rates in the black population. Among both black men and women, more than 25 percent have high cholesterol.

The Prince George’s County Health Department stationed a table not far from another that served burgers and chicken, food heavily laden with saturated fat, cholesterol and high sodium. From that table, the department preached a message of abstinence from an unhealthy lifestyle.

“Today, a lot of people were coming over discussing how they could change their eating habits,” said Dellia Williams, Prince George’s County Health Department public information officer. “We say take one or two of the top healthy eating tips that you think are attainable, follow those and, then, maybe you can add on an additional tip.”

About 200 feet away sat the Prince George’s Health Mobile unit, a vehicle that experts said will visit various events throughout the county this summer. Inside, medical professionals tested patients for such diseases as diabetes, breast cancer and HIV.

“The Health Department tries to find the areas where people are engaging in a lot of sexual activity. … This is one of those areas,” said Jomanto Joyner, Prince George’s Health Department worker. “You know Eastern Avenue has a lot of prostitution.”

Joyner said Landover, Suitland and other communities along Central and Southern avenues are areas with high HIV rates. Overall, Prince George’s County has the second highest HIV rate in Maryland. The state has the fourth highest rate in the nation. 

Because Capitol Heights is such an at-risk community for various illnesses, Gov. Martin O’Malley designated it as one of five state Health Enterprise Zones — community coalitions that “will receive a range of incentives, benefits, and grant funding to address unacceptable and persistent health disparities.”

Melissa Casey, of Capitol Heights, is proactive in making sure she knows her status. But, she only began getting tested for HIV in 2012. Even though she has health insurance and receives regular health screenings from her primary care physician, Casey walked over to the health department’s mobile unit just to be on the safe side.

“I think it’s very important to do it for your health,” said Casey, 34. “I try to do it every six months.”

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