Community epidemiologist Sista Yaa Simpson during a Feb. 13 health seminar about chronic diseases in the black community.

The Association of Clinical Trials Services sponsored a health seminar Saturday in Austin and discussed how health disorders, such as HIV and sickle cell anemia, is crippling many black neighborhoods like East Garfield Park and North Lawndale.

Paula Green is all too familiar with these health disorders.

At five-months old Green’s son was diagnosed with sickle cell, which she said he is still struggling with today at age 27.

“It is a disease that seems to like black people. Sickle cell is more prevalent in the black community than anything else including AIDS and diabetes,” contends Green. “And what is sickle cell? It is a group of disorders that affects the blood cells that delivers oxygen to cells throughout the body.”

Green was among 50 people who attended the two-hour seminar that included state Rep. LaShawn Ford (D-8th) as a panelist.

In 2015, Ford sponsored House Bill 1004, which amended the AIDS Confidentiality Act, and removed what Ford said were barriers in testing for HIV in Illinois.

Ford said the bill also extended the life of the African American HIV/AIDS Response Act.

“Now HIV testing in Illinois is a part of routine medical tests. So when you go get a check-up and they check for things like your cholesterol level they could also check for HIV and no longer need your written authorization to do so,” he explained. “No more intrusive questions are asked about your sex life before getting tested.”

Moderator Sista Yaa Simpson, a community epidemiologist for the Association of Clinical Trials Services, added that the healthier blacks are the better unity they will have with their community.

“Health equity equals black unity,” said Simpson, who is also an Austin resident. “Health equity means you are in the best health you can possibly be.”

But besides the HIV bill, Ford said the Red Ribbon Fund, which is a scratch off lottery ticket, also helps promote HIV testing.

Other panelists like Cecile Johnson, a member of the National Black Agenda Consortium Health and Wellness, added that besides getting tested for health disorders it is also important to educate the black community about their eating habits and staying healthy.

“Access to medical knowledge is an important part of why healthy living is not a priority in the black community,” Johnson said. “Knowledge is power not just in the classroom but also in everyday living.”

Johnson added that fast-food restaurants dominate black communities and that is contributing factor to blacks having health problems.

“Diabetes, hypertension and asthma runs high in the black community and that’s not by accident when you look at the food choices available,” she said. “It is easier for me to get a hamburger than fresh fruits and vegetables in the black community.”

Afterwards, Soi Hung, who lives in the West Loop, but traveled to Austin to attend the seminar, said he learned a lot about health challenges facing minorities.

“I do not live around here, but I came to the seminar to find out more about the lack of healthy choices some residents have. I live near Downtown and have plenty of food choices but that does make me privileged,” explained Hung.

“It may make me lucky but it does not mean my neighborhood is any better than Austin. Every neighborhood, regardless of color or income status, should have the same schools, housing and healthy eating choices as mines.”