Rick Kittles Pushes for Equitable Medicine and Health Insurance
By Victoria Joshua
March 20, 2013
After constructing and building the largest DNA database of African genealogy, including the genes of celebrities like Chris Tucker and Oprah Winfrey, Scientific Director of African Ancestry Rick Kittles, came to Dominican to educate students and faculty about genealogy, roots to slavery and health disparity among minorities.
Dr. Kittles is well known for helping celebrities like filmmaker Spike Lee and actress Vanessa Williams, and a host of other renowned descendants of African slaves find their roots.
Kittles has also been active globally, in investigating genetics’ role in diseases like prostate cancer and diabetes, both of which severely affect the African and Latino American communities.
When Kittles arrived to Dominican University on Feb. 27, his lecture titled, “The Role of Diverse Population in Personalized Medicine,” raised awareness about health disparity and its connection to social and environmental circumstances.
Challenging emerging health professionals, Kittles stated, “We have to be honest that in some cases, it (health disparities) has little to do with biological differences.”
As Kittles explained, ancestry and skin color seemed to be correlated as well as family history playing a big part in health in terms of disease. In addition to that, mentioned that the advancement of genetics through technology has made it easier to detect and prescribe illnesses in time enough to save millions of lives.
Senior and sociology major Molly Harety, was in attendance and believed that Kittles’ lecture helped her to understand race as a social construction: “It was interesting to see both nature and nurture play a role when talking about health issues,” she said.
In particular, these cultural factors affect blacks and Hispanics the most, causing the accumulation of stress, discrimination and perceived racism and poor diets due to low qualities of food (e.g. fruit, vitamins) contributing to the increasing rates of health disparities in the impoverished cities of America.
“What has emerged is the haves and the have not’s,” Kittles said. “You have medical clinics in Chicago that are taking advantage of the genetic technology to make better diagnoses, but when you go to the west side they don’t have that…our genes interact with our environment.”
To Kittles, healthcare treatments like angioplasty, medical scanners like CT scanners combined with certain environments and people are being overlooked by the drug facilities becomes inequitable.
Kittles made a hopeful yet imperative plea to those in attendance, that there is little to no time to wait on others and that, “This is where you guys are going to have to become really active and advocate.” “You have to balance that because if you don’t it will get worse.”
Kittles insisted to look beyond genetics, because many of the current conditions have little to do with it. Instead, he encouraged those in attendance to consider removing or improving environmental behaviors.
Post Bachalorette student Regaina Demeritte, was surprised to hear how the perception of genetics can somewhat overshadow the more important issues.
“Genetics and race is bigger than what we think,” Demeritte said. “It is more than what we’ve been conditioned to believe it to be.”