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EVMS and NSU host community discussions spotlighting health disparities

EVMS has launched a series of listening sessions to hear people's experiences and feedback on tackling health disparity issues in Hampton Roads.

NORFOLK, Va. — Few times have health disparities been on display like the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Educators at Eastern Virginia Medical School and Norfolk State University are teaming up to tackle tough conversations they say are needed to make change.  

On Thursday, EVMS and Norfolk State hosted the third in a series of "listening sessions" on health disparities in Hampton Roads. The discussions ask people to share their stories and examine the issue facing health disparities in the community. 

"We all have a responsibility to keep people well," said Dr. Cynthia Romero, director of the Brock Institute for Community and Global Health at EVMS. 

Dr. Romero was joined by Dr. Cynthia Burwell, chair of the department of health, physical education and exercise science at Norfolk State University, and Mekbib Gemeda, vice president of diversity in education at EVMS.  

In a brief presentation, Dr. Romero revealed data showing stark disparities among people of color, particularly Black Virginians. For instance, the rate of Black people dying or being hospitalized is higher than other groups, but the issues reach beyond the pandemic. 

Dr. Romero said Black men in Portsmouth are more than three times more likely to die of prostate cancer and the rate of new annual cases diagnosed in Hampton Roads is also above the national average. 

The panelists each said education, community engagement, and training future physicians to spot disparities is paramount. There must also be access to equal medical care, said Gemeda. 

“Access not only translates to facilities but also resources or you are not included," he said. 

EVMS students have taken an active role in vaccination efforts in underrepresented communities, said Dr. Romero. 

If you would like to watch the full presentation, you can find it here: