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Brooklyn’s Immigrants Face Health Crisis

By Michael D. Roberts

Central Brooklyn is the epicenter of the HIV and AIDS crisis in New York City.

The rate of HIV/AIDS infection in the Caribbean-American community in Brooklyn is 16 times the national average, akin to those in sub-Saharan Africa. And approximately 50,000 children have been orphaned in the borough as a result of HIV/AIDS, according to Caribbean Women’s Health Association.

The situation is especially grave for many immigrant groups because health care is too expensive or unavailable, education about the disease and treatment is scarce, and many are wary of the government assistance.

"You have a situation where the undocumented are scared to access public health facilities because they fear deportation and the sharing of immigration status information with the Immigration Naturalization Service," said Dr. Marco Mason of the organization.

Combined with other health problems like high rates of infant mortality especially in immigrant groups from Haiti, Panama, Grenada, and Ghana, and the highest prostrate cancer rates in the state, Brooklyn is struggling to treat the health needs of its residents.

Community leaders and activists say that budget cuts and years of inattention have left the borough with only short-term solutions.

"We have written, we have begged, we have pleaded with the powers that be," said Mason. "We have warned that this health crisis will not remain for long within the confines of this special population and that when it hits the general population the situation will be much more difficult to address, arrest, and contain."

In the last year, City Councilmember Yvette Clarke has organized a task force to highlight the health crisis in Central Brooklyn. Clarke is also working with state agencies to set up additional health clinics in the area and hopes to youth programs to better education families.

Outreach efforts, according to Dr. Lorna Scott McBarnette, former Deputy Health Commissioner and Chief Executive Officer of Community Health Care Association of New York State, must include access to health care, more education, and better scientific research.

"To combat these problems will require an organized community effort," said McBarnette. "There is no one size fits all solution in this crisis."

Michael D. Roberts is the editor of The New York Carib News.

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