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New Collaborative Builds Primer for Missing Black Health Curriculum

September 22/2021

By Françoise Makanda, Communications Officer at DLSPH

A cadre of prominent Canadian Black Health researchers is coming together as The Black Health Education Collaborative (BHEC) to provide Black health education for all health professionals and students.

The Collaborative’s first module will be available to students next year. The resource serves as a foundation for all health professionals on critical information about Black Health in Canada.

Onye Nnorom

Prof. Onye Nnorom

“Due to the racial disparities amplified in this pandemic and the murder of George Floyd, there is a greater awareness of anti-Black racism and its impacts on health. The increase in public consciousness has been a silver lining in a very terrible storm that has been all of our lives for the last 18 months or more,” says Prof. Onye Nnorom, a prominent researcher within the Collaborative.

DLSPH Asst. Prof. Nnorom initiated the project with other prominent Black health leaders in Canada a few years after she became the Black Health lead at the Faculty of Medicine’s MD Program, where she is cross-appointed. She was eager to develop a health primer but was short on resources.

“I needed to know what the standards are, what needs to be on exams, otherwise I’m kind of just decoration here,” says Nnorom.

And while the Black student population in both Medicine and DLSPH has grown in recent years, the curricula still missed critical inclusions of Black health. Nnorom says Canadian medical education still uses data from the United States with no Canadian context and often focuses primarily on chronic disease prevalence among Black people.

“Or they’re taught that the disparities in our community are biologically based. In public health, it’s kind of the same thing. Either you’re not taught about Black populations or you’re just talking about it through American data,” she says.

“Students are giving the impression that there is something cultural or some knowledge lacking or some other deficit with the marginalized community as to why they have disparities, as opposed to understanding that these are rooted in structural racism and oppression.”

OmiSoore Dryden

Associate Professor Dr. OmiSoore Dryden, the James R. Johnston Chair in Black Canadian Studies in the Faculty of Medicine at Dalhousie University

She teamed up with Associate Professor Dr. OmiSoore Dryden, the James R. Johnston Chair in Black Canadian Studies in the Faculty of Medicine at Dalhousie University to provide insights into social determinants of health and their impact on Black health and academic critical race theory. Together, they formed a national group to consult on health primers.

A proposal was drafted in 2018, and consultations followed a year later with medical and public health students and scholars. The group built enough material to make its case, presenting at webinars and workshops. Members met sporadically to solidify their pitch. That’s until the pandemic hit. Then their work took a short pause.

Black Lives Matter demonstrations following George Floyd’s death spurred a renewed demand for a primer, and the group finished what they started.

“Working with my colleagues allowed us to pool our resources and our expertise in Black studies, critical race theory, health, clinical practices, public health, and medical education. Working together during the renewed Black Lives Matter protests, and the impact the pandemic has had on our communities allowed us to minimize our isolation while sharing resources,” says Dryden.

The Collaborative welcomed its first Executive Director, DLSPH alumna Sume Ndumbe-Eyoh in August. Her new role is a continuation of her decade-long journey on social determinants of health across Canada. Now, she can examine Black health exclusively on a national scope.

“Focusing on health equity and social determinants of health just felt like a natural space to be in because I’ve always understood health as something which exists beyond disease and which has really shaped me,” Ndumbe-Eyoh says.

“If you’re going to medical school right now, that should be part of what you’re learning. If you’re going through a school of public health, that should be included as part of what you’ll learn. We should not have folks graduating, who do not understand that racism affects health and who don’t have the skills to address anti-Black racism,” says Ndumbe-Eyoh.

Sume Ndumbe-Eyoh

Executive Director of The Black Health Education Collaborative (BHEC) Sume Ndumbe-Eyoh

Born and raised in Cameroon, she noticed the disconnect between public health messaging and the realities she and her friends were living through in Cameroon. A popular campaign in her home country got her interested in public health programs and interventions. At DLSPH, she studied the social dimensions of HIV/AIDS in public health.

Ndumbe-Eyoh argues that while the work didn’t stop, mainstream media finally took notice of an issue activists like herself have been pushing for. “I think the public consciousness, at least for white folks, appears to be shifting. I say ‘appears’ because I have many question marks around that. I think for those of us who’ve been doing this work for a while, the work is always ongoing. What I’ve seen shift is that more mainstream organizations are probably making space for Black-led work on anti-Black racism,” says Ndumbe-Eyoh.

With the understanding of the heterogeneity in the Black community, Ndumbe-Eyoh hopes that health professionals will also be given some insights into the complexities community members face with duelling social backgrounds, genders, and incomes. As part of her first months in her role, Ndumbe-Eyoh is eager to lay out the foundations of Black Health to medical students.

The Collaborative is also developing a continuing professional development program for clinicians and health practitioners soon.

“We will be developing resources to support faculty development. In the last year, a lot of folks are being pulled into teaching about anti-racism and Black health who need a community of practice,” says Ndumbe-Eyoh.

Her office will develop some resources to support faculty with the assistance of researchers in the community who can offer some research and practical perspectives in teaching anti-racism.

The program began with seed funding of $1.7 million dollars with support from the Dalla Lana School of Public Health, the Temerty Faculty of Medicine and Dalhousie University Faculty of Medicine. The Collaborative is seeking more funding to expand the work to include mentorship, a community of practice for scholars and educators, publications and providing research and training.

“It is my hope that our work influences the culture of medical education through new structures that specifically address Black health and wellness. I hope that health learners will develop the skills necessary to provide appropriate care to Black and African Nova Scotian communities across the country. And it is my hope that health educators will develop and update their skills to better equip our health learners,” says Dryden.