Maryland Department of Health announces new community-based partnership to enhance statewide vaccination efforts

Baltimore— The Maryland Department of Health (MDH) announced the Maryland Partnership for Prevention (MPP) as its community partner in an enhanced statewide initiative to promote and facilitate childhood and flu vaccination activities throughout the fall. The effort will also support COVID-19 vaccination activity, in preparation for when a vaccine becomes available. “It has never been more important to take care of our health and our families by protecting ourselves against preventable disease,” said MDH Secretary Robert R. Neall. “We’re committed to investing in the outreach and logistics necessary to help ensure more Marylanders get vaccinated safely, swiftly and effectively.”

The $1.5 million project is a unique coordinated statewide effort to support all local health departments and Federally Qualified Health Centers (FQHCs) with technology, staffing and logistical support through PrepMod, a new online resource that will be used to schedule clinics; track equipment needs; and report vaccination activity.

The effort also includes communications, outreach and vaccination clinics in areas showing the most significant vaccination rate declines, made possible through a Pfizer Foundation grant, announced in July.

MPP is the adult immunization coalition for Maryland and is the parent organization of the Maryland Childhood Immunization Partnership (MCIP) and regional immunization coalitions across the state. MDH has previously partnered with MPP to assist with school-based flu and back-to-school immunization clinics. MPP has also worked with a number of local health departments in years past.

Marylanders can visit MD.MyIR.net, a free and secure online portal where users can access official copies of their vaccination records and those of their family members. To schedule an appointment your local health department’s vaccination clinic, Marylanders can also visit: marylandvax.org.

STAR celebrates 30 years of addressing health disparities in Baltimore

Sisters Together And Reaching, Inc. (STAR), a faith-based, nonprofit community organization that provides spiritual support, direct services, and prevention education to HIV/AIDS infected, and affected African-American women and men, is celebrating its 30th anniversary this month. And many who have worked with the organization like Randi Woods, say the celebration wouldn’t be possible without STAR’s founder, the Rev. Debra Hickman.

Rev. Debra Hickman, founder and CEO of STAR

Aisha Butler/Jazzy Studios

Rev. Debra Hickman, founder and CEO of STAR

“She has employed 300 people over 30 years, and she’s created space for nurses, doctors, and public health students to gain real life experience,” said Woods, a registered nurse who serves as the nonprofit’s senior director of community care coordination. Woods added that Hickman, affectionately known as “Rev. Debbie,” has formed relationships within the community and large health systems.

STAR counts as a community faith- based nonprofit that Hickman founded in 1991 to serve the Greater Baltimore HIV/AIDS community.

Since its inception, STAR has been a premiere advocate addressing health disparities among African American men, women, and their families living with HIV/AIDS and other chronic diseases in Baltimore City.

Located in the heart of Charm City, STAR has been a service provider of comprehensive care coordination and support services to thousands of individuals and families – creating healthy generational behaviors withstanding time.

Woods noted that STAR services include, but aren’t limited to, preventative testing, health promotion prevention education, patient advocacy, and comprehensive, holistic care management.

“Through time, STAR has developed multiple collaborative partnerships with traditional and non-traditional partners to continue working effectively with high-risk communities addressing traditional and non-traditional aspects of living with HIV/AIDS and other chronic diseases,” Woods stated. “Along with our partners, our future legacy of community engagement, prevention education, and community impact will serve as a pillar for every person serviced through our programs.”

Born and raised in Baltimore, Hickman’s parents migrated from the South searching for work and more opportunities for their children.

As the oldest of two children, Hickman learned early how to handle business affairs as her parents had limited education.

“When Rev. Debbie started STAR, she was working a full-time job and was leading a very small team of women volunteers from churches around the city,” Woods said. “Since that time, she has remained committed to advocating for justice in healthcare for the men and women of Baltimore City.”

Hickman has served on the Mayors HIV Commission and is a two-time appointee by the White House Secretary of Health to serve on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention/Heath Resources Service Administration Advisory Council (CHAC).

She also has worked as a consultant to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

In 1999, Hickman was selected to be among the first 40 CDC Leadership Scholars. Under the leadership of former Mayor Martin O’Malley and past City Council President Sheila Dixon, Hickman was appointed to serve as a Commissioner for the Baltimore City HIV Commission and recently appointed by the White House Secretary of Health and Human Service Office to the Centers for Disease Control/Health Resource Services Administration Advisory Board.

“Rev. Hickman’s favorite scripture is Psalm 34, and she attempts to carry this scripture out through a life that truly blesses the Lord by following his commands and sharing His love wherever she goes,” Woods said. “Rev. Hickman is known as a visionary and her motto is, ‘Be Forward Focused and Not Past Possessed.’”

To learn more about STAR, visit www.sisterstogetherandreaching.org.

2021 Plans and prices ready to view on MarylandHealthConnection.gov

Baltimore— Marylanders can now view plans and prices for 2021 health cover- age on MarylandHealthConnection.gov, the state’s online health insurance market- place.

Open enrollment begins November 1 and runs through December 15 for coverage that begins January 1, 2021. Prices have fallen for the third year in a row. Rates for 2021 average 35 percent less than they were in 2018.

A third insurance company, UnitedHealthcare, is returning to the marketplace for 2021, joining CareFirst BlueCross BlueShield and Kaiser Permanente.

For the second year, “value plans” are offered to help consumers lower out-of- pocket expenses. Some plans include unlimited doctor visits before deductibles are met. “Value plans” were very popular when they were introduced last year, one of every three enrollments. Pre-deductible services have been expanded for 2021.

“We know that Marylanders are especially concerned about their health and their access to affordable coverage in 2020,” said Michele Eberle, executive director of the Maryland Health Benefit Exchange, which operates the state’s health insurance marketplace. We’re glad to be able to offer more plans this year with lower rates.”

Since mid-March, about 75,000 people have enrolled through Maryland Health Connection during a special enrollment set up in response to the coronavirus emer- gency. That special enrollment is available for anyone who needs coverage now and will run through December 15, 2020. This enrollment period is for private plans only. Marylanders who qualify for Medicaid may enroll any time of year.

One of every six Marylanders receives their health coverage through Maryland Health Connection (MHC), the state-based health insurance marketplace. Residents can compare and enroll in health insurance as well as determine eligibility for Medicaid or financial help with private plans.

Drug and Alcohol Rehabilitation and Education

Narconon reminds families that abuse of heroin and opioid drugs has become a national health crisis. Learn to recognize the signs of heroin abuse and get your loved ones help if they are at risk. Visit www.narcononnewliferetreat.org/blog/naloxone‐ availability.html to learn about the overdose reversing drug known as naloxone and find out its availability in your state. Narconon can help you take steps to overcome addiction in your family. Call 1- 800-431-1754 today for free screenings or referrals.

Genetics, Diagnosis, Treatment: NIH Takes on Sickle Cell Disease Globally

Washington, D.C.— Each year, some 150,000 children in Nigeria are born with sickle cell disease, the most common— and often life-threatening— inherited blood disorder in the world. “I was not happy when I read that Nigeria will have the highest contribution to the global burden of sickle cell disease by 2050—if we continue at the present birth rate and the level of inactivity in newborn screening,” said hematologist Obiageli Nnodu, M.D., the lead researcher in Nigeria for the Sickle Pan African Research Consortium (SPARCo), funded by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI), part of the National Institutes of Health. “As a country, we can do better than that. After all, this is a disease where children die undiagnosed, and largely from preventable causes such as bacterial infections.”

Sickle cell disease affects 20 million people worldwide, including at least 100,000 in the United States, mainly African Americans, but Hispanics and Asian Americans, too. To help address the problem on a global scale, the NHLBI has been supporting programs in sub-Saharan Africa, where more than 75 percent of the sickle cell disease births worldwide occur. SPARCo, with a hub in Tanzania, and additional sites in Nigeria and Ghana, works to develop an infrastructure for sickle cell disease research, health care, education, and training to take place in Africa.

“We are showing that with effective partnerships, significant advances in health and biomedical science can be achieved,” said Tanzania-based Julie Makani, M.D., Ph.D., who leads the SPARCo consortium.

SPARCo, in collaboration with the Sickle Africa Data Coordinating Center, led by Ambroise Wonkam, M.D., in South Africa created Sickle In Africa, which has a growing electronic registry of more than 10,000 individuals with sickle cell disease.

“The genetic diversity of Africa’s population allows scientific research that will increase our understanding of how a disease caused by a single gene can manifest in such different ways, ” explained Makani.

Newborn screening, as Nnodu noted, is the first step to reduce mortality and suffering for these children, and for that, they need good tests readily available at the point of care. That’s why NHLBI supports research towards development of diagnostics, such as a new rapid result test that is relatively inexpensive, accurate, and can provide a timely diagnosis of sickle cell disease. The test does not require sophisticated laboratory equipment, electricity, refrigeration, or highly trained personnel— a critical advantage for countries with few resources.

On the treatment front, a large multinational NHLBI-funded clinical trial found that a daily hydroxyurea pill was safe and effective for young children living with sickle cell disease in sub-Saharan Africa. The NHLBI also has its sights on developing genetic therapies for the disease, as part of a newly announced NIH collaboration with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The goal of the partnership, which also addresses HIV, is to advance possible gene-based cures to clinical trials in the United States and relevant countries in sub-Saharan Africa within the next seven to 10 years.

“A person’s health should not be limited by their geographic location, whether it’s in rural America or sub- Saharan Africa,” said Gary H. Gibbons, M.D., director of the NHLBI. “Harnessing the power of science is needed to transcend borders if we want to improve health for all.”

The National Newspaper Publishers Association (NNPA) is a trade association of the more than 200 African American-owned community newspapers from around the United States. Since its founding 75 years ago, NNPA has consistently been the voice of the black community and an incubator for news that makes history and impacts their country. For more information, visit: nnpa.org

It’s time for your flu shot!

The University of Maryland Medical Center Midtown Campus is again offering free flu shots this season. The flu vaccine is a proven way to prevent or reduce the symptoms of influenza (flu), a serious respiratory disease that killed nearly 1,000 people in Maryland last year and sickened 74,000.

The COVID-19 pandemic makes flu shots even more vital this year, as we face the prospect of two potentially deadly respiratory diseases at the same time. Flu and COVID-19 are both spread from person to person and have similar symptoms and effects, but are caused by different viruses. We’re still waiting for a COVID-19 vaccine, but the flu vaccine is ready to go.

Flu shots are one way to reduce the chance you’ll get the flu and possibly end up in the hospital or die of flu. To be clear, the flu vaccine will not protect against the virus that causes COVID-19. However, flu prevention may help save medical resources to care for a rise in the number of COVID-19 patients that experts predict will come with colder weather.

Annual flu vaccinations are recommended for everyone age six months and older. A flu shot is needed every year because there are many different flu viruses and they change from year to year. The flu vaccines protect against the three or four most common flu viruses that research suggests will be widespread this year in the United States.

Keep in mind that it takes about two weeks after a flu shot before your immune system is ready to protect you against the flu. Flu season usually peaks between December and February, but since we’re also dealing with the unknowns of COVID-19, it’s hard to predict whether this will be a normal flu season. So, the earlier you get your flu shot, the better.

Also, it’s possible to have flu or other respiratory illnesses as well as COVID- 19 at the same time. We’re still learning about COVID-19, so we don’t fully know what could happen if you get both. But we do know that flu and COVID happening at the same time could mean bigger problems than we’ve had with COVID alone. Take charge of your health now, by attending Free Flu Shot Friday in October.

Jeffrey Gerbino, MD, is an internal medicine specialist at the University of Maryland Medical Center Midtown Campus

Fix Our Medical Insurance Dilemma

Give all Americans the option to buy into Medicare. I’ve paid into Social Security and Medicare my entire life. I’m still paying to be on plan B and supplemental coverage. I also pay for prescription insurance. I often feel like a coffee coupon from McDonald’s would pay for about as much medicine as my prescription card pays.

I no longer pay over $1600 a month in medical insurance but I still pay about $450 a month even with Medicare. Nothing is free.

Americans should have the option to buy into Medicare especially if medical insurance will not cover them and they can’t afford the sky rocketing premiums. It’s also time to get rid of medical supplements and prescription cards. Make Medicare a single payer of the doctor’s visits, prescription costs and all the above.

The government has more power to control the cost of big pharmacies and hospital costs. Most medical providers have “one price” but then the “price” they will accept from Medicare. Under President Trump Hospitals will have to display their secret negotiated rates to patients starting in January 2021. This gives you the option to shop around.

I’m all for having medical insurance available. Make it available from state to state. Make it easy for Americans to buy from pharmacies in Canada. Let senior Americans at age 55 buy 20-year term medical insurance plans if they would prefer to do so. Some Americans have no idea how desperate other Americans are when it comes to medical treatment.

Why make it so hard for Americans who do not have access to healthcare? Let them buy into Medicare. If they are unemployed or disabled then give them the Medicaid option. However, this is just more bureaucracy. This system needs to become one.

It’s also time to make 60 the age that retired Americans go on Medicare. In your late fifties and early sixties Americans have to start going to the doctor more. A friend of mine is waiting until she turns 65 and has Medicare so she can have a badly needed surgery. She needs it now. If she could buy into Medicare she could go ahead and move forward with her needed surgery.

We also need to turn the age back to 65 for collecting full Social Security benefits. American men die by the time they are 76.1 years old. Many die much younger. This is very little time to enjoy retirement. Sadly, many Americans aren’t having much of a retirement in their golden years. Many are working longer and spending less time doing what they had hoped to do.

The government wastes our Social Security contributions. They’ve spent trillions on foreign wars. They now tell us Social Security has been reduced by 25% in a few years. Rich political leaders want to push the age until 70 for you to collect your Social Security. This is not working for the American people. We are working longer with the prospects of collecting less. On top of this, older Americans are having to pay more of their dwindling retirement dollars for medical bills.

Bringing our troops home and spending less money in Iraq, Afghanistan and on rebuilding foreign nations is a start. We can and we must fix our medical insurance dilemma.

Dr. Glenn Mollette is an author and syndicated columnist. To contact him, email: GMollette@aol.com or visit: www.glennmollette.com.

National Health Aging Month spotlights proper care and attention for older adults

Experts believe the number of older adults in the U.S. will reach nearly 71 million by 2030. According to AARP, this expanding older adult population will significantly affect the nation’s public health system and increase the demand for aging- related services. “Spend time with elderly people, call your local nursing home and ask if there’s something you can do to support their residents as they deal with COVID- 19,” said Aaron Blight, the founder of Caregiving Kinetics and the author of the upcoming book, “When Caregiving Calls: Guidance as You Care for a Parent, Spouse, or Aging Relative.”

“Challenge cultural assumptions about aging or oldness. Rethink what retirement actually means, hire an older worker, and write a letter to an elderly person who has been confined to their home during COVID-19,” Blight suggested.

Jim Owen, a 79-year-old fitness enthusiast and the author and producer of “The Art of Aging Well,” which airs on PBS this fall, said if we’ve learned anything from the pandemic, it’s that the people most vulnerable are those with underlying health conditions.

September counts as National Healthy Aging Month, a period in which more than the usual attention is encouraged for seniors and their health. “We also know that these chronic diseases are, to some degree, lifestyle- related, so if you smoke, or are obese, or live a sedentary way of life, you are at higher risk of getting seriously ill or dying from the virus,” Owen noted. “The best way I’ve found to do that is by focusing on one healthy habit at a time— say, going for a walk everyday— and challenging yourself to keep it up for thirty days. Then make another small change. If you do that every month, imagine where you could be a year from now.”

Stephanie Erickson, a clinical social worker and author of the book, “Plan for Aging Well,” said the focus needs to center on a complete rebuild of the nation’s medical and healthcare system so older adults could receive care and support for “their body, mind, and soul.”

“Our current model is intervention and medically based and should include a balanced approach to provide opportunities for our emotional, psychological and spiritual wellbeing,” Erickson demanded. “Aging is scary for people and conversations about it are avoided, leaving older adults alone and without a clear plan of their expectations, in terms of care and support as they age. This creates unavoidable crises and family conflict.

“This pandemic has highlighted, very clearly, how little we support those who are aging. It is now time to rebuild the system completely.” Writer and educator Kathie Lapcevic says older adults should focus on simplifying their lives.

“Slowing down all the crazy distractions and overwhelm that comes with trying to do it all and be it all for everyone,” Lapcevic said. “Take time to live a life that is slower and more intentional with a focus on personal priorities, not those that are applied from social media or marketing.” For more information about older adults and National Healthy Aging Month, visit www.aarp.org or www.healthyaging.net.

COVID-19 Clinical Antibody Trials in Baltimore and Annapolis

Who is eligible: People who either: Were tested for Covid-19 no more than 5 days ago and were positive, still have symptoms but haven’t been hospitalized Were in close contact with someone who has Covid-19 no more than 3 days ago, who don’t have any symptoms

What: A new clinical trial to determine whether giving people antibodies is effective at treating early- stage coronavirus and n preventing those exposed to it from catching the disease.

Where: Trials are being conducted on-site at Johns Hopkins in Baltimore and Anne Arudnel Medical Center in Annapolis—as well as locations in key markets across the country.

Will I be compensated? Yes. More details are available once you have contacted the investigators via the website or phone number below.

When: Enrolling now. If you think you’ve been exposed, or are newly diagnosed and have symptoms, contact Johns Hopkins at 888-506-1199 or www.covidplasmatrial.org – if too many days pass, you may not qualify to participate.

Why does this trial matter? This is the first U.S. multi-center, double blind, randomized clinical trial to assess the effectiveness of convalescent blood plasma as an outpatient therapy. Antibodies are one of the best options being tested for treatment and prevention. The technology won the Nobel Prize in 1901, was employed in the last great pandemic of 1918, and has been used on over 70,000 patients who have already been given plasma in the U.S. If this option is deemed effective, it would be one of the most viable options for treating and/or preventing coronavirus illness worldwide, compared to vaccines, which might be too costly for some countries.

Do I qualify?: Call 888-506-1199, or visit: www.covidplasmatrial.org to take the enrollment questionnaire.

Death of Chadwick Boseman Puts Focus on Colon Cancer and African Americans

The death of actor Chadwick Boseman from colon cancer at age 43 has brought new attention on the disease and how it disproportionately impacts African Americans.Boseman was diagnosed with stage 3, colon cancer at 38. It later advanced to stage 4. Boseman was filming movies that included completing his own stunts while undergoing cancer treatment that included chemotherapy. The actor died on August 30. His death caught many who worked closely with him by surprise.

Colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer in both men and women in America. It is the second most common cause of death related to the disease. African Americans are disproportionately impacted with a 20 percent greater rate than whites and an even greater degree of mortality.

Every year, on average 140,000 Americans are diagnosed with colon cancer with about 50,000 succumbing to the disease. For African Americans the death rates are higher. Diets high in animal fat and low in fiber are associated with the development of colon cancer. Cigarette smoking, obesity, lack of exercise, and vitamins C and E deficiency are also contributing factors tied to colon cancer.

Dr. Wayne Frederick, who is the President of Howard University and a medical doctor, where Boseman graduated in 2000, commented on Boseman’s trip to Howard University’s commencement in 2018 as the featured graduation speaker. Frederick focused on the importance of knowing what one’s family history is and knowing what close relatives died of. He instructed that if you’re unclear how a close relative died you should investigate and find out.

“When I was in medical school, we got screening guidelines that it should start at 50. What we are seeing now is individuals getting colon cancer now is much younger. It is something for us to watch,” said Dr. Frederick on Roland Martin Unfiltered on August 31, 2020. Martin broadcast a two-hour tribute in honor of Boseman on his daily show.

“African Americans are much less likely to get the generic screening,” he added. Dr. Frederick also mentioned that popular historian Dr. Ibram X. Kendi was diagnosed with colon cancer at 36.

In January 2018, Kendi learned he had colon cancer after a colonoscopy. Though the cancer spread to his liver, further tests revealed that Kendi was cancer free after six months of chemotherapy and surgery.

In January 2019, Kendi wrote “What I Learned From Cancer,” in The Atlantic. Kendi was trying to complete another epic work “How to Be an Antiracist,” as he was being treated for colon cancer.

“In the hours of each day when I managed to submerge myself inside the writing zone, the metastatic cancer was an afterthought. The symptoms from the six months of chemotherapy, from January to June last year, were an afterthought: my marathons of tiredness, the bubbling nausea, my hands and feet tingling and darkening and drying and blistering, making them unusable at times,” Kendi wrote regarding this cancer battle.

Lauren Victoria Burke is an independent journalist for NNPA and the host of the podcast BURKEFILE. She is also a political strategist as Principal of Win Digital Media LLC. She may be contacted at LBurke007@gmail.com and on twitter at @LVBurke Guest Editorials/Letters