by Aisha Dotson, UTHSC College of Medicine, Class of 2018
Attacking poverty and community health issues in any city, especially in the city of Memphis, is
going to take input from several facets of the community; no one can tackle this alone. Poverty is a huge issue that affects a large portion of the city in comparison to other cities. Although poverty affects members of all racial communities, the Black and Latino communities bear the largest of its burden. As a result, these are the main groups of underserved people who we see most affected by health disparities. If we want to address community health issues in Memphis, we would make the greatest impact if we began in these communities.
Many health issues stem from the simple fact that some people cannot afford healthy foods, do not live near a grocery store with fresh produce, and/or do not have transportation to reach stores or health care facilities. In Memphis, there are several pockets of the city with abandoned buildings in the poorer communities. Many businesses that once flourished in these areas have either closed for good or moved to other areas. There is a vast need for businesses that can provide affordable and beneficial services in these areas, such as groceries, health care, etc. – like what Crosstown Concourse is offering its surrounding communities. There are several locations within Memphis that would benefit from community centers that provide the basics of food and health care options to its citizens at prices they could afford.
With poverty usually comes lower education levels, which then can lead to lack of knowledge about the importance of health and wellness. Any efforts to help provide better health care to members of these communities would have an even larger impact if it incorporates educational tools as well. People could not only get the health care they need but also become more aware of the importance of health and potentially be motivated to seek medical attention when necessary in the future. Information about common conditions such as high blood pressure, diabetes, stroke prevention, as well as basic wellness information could be provided via pamphlets or even as videos on a phone application. A phone application would be helpful for several reasons – it would be user friendly, people could access the info at their own pace on their own time, videos and images would be helpful for those who may be illiterate or have English as a second language, and it would be provided free of charge. The app could also be individualized to each user’s geographic location and provide phone numbers and addresses to local health clinics that provide care to those with minimal or no insurance.
Lastly, another important approach to addressing community health issues and poverty involves discovering each component that may be causing decreased access to resources for members of communities. Are their poor eating habits due to minimal access to a grocery store with fresh produce? Is their poor health due to working multiple jobs and not have time to take off to visit the doctor? Do they not have any means of transportation? Can they not afford their prescription medications? To successfully address health issues and poverty in these communities, it is important to address each barrier to an individual’s health, and tackle these one at a time.