By Jeff Mays
HARLEM — Each time the Greater Harlem Chamber of Commerce held a health fair, the response was so intense that organizers knew they needed to plan something more comprehensive.
"Given the positive response and the growing health needs we thought it best to organize a conference," said Darwin Davis, executive board member of the Greater Harlem Chamber of Commerce.
The result is the first National Urban Health Conference that starts Thursday and runs through Sunday. The conference, which will be held at Harlem venues such as City College, Harlem Hospital and Abyssinian Baptist Church, will address several major issues facing communities of color in Upper Manhattan. Among them are obesity, mental, financial and spiritual health as well as youth violence.
"All of these issues are separate and distinct but can't be addressed in isolation. For example, the state of our economy can cause unemployment and underemployment which causes stress that can lead to heart attacks and strokes," Davis said. "The conference seeks to address how we can successfully manage those things."
One of the highlights of the conference will be the focus on financial issues affecting women.
"Women household leaders tend to be the caregivers for our community of young and old people. We want to look at long-term care planning, insurance and 'how do we prepare ourselves ahead of major life events?'," said Davis.
When news of the conference spread, community providers including hospitals and doctors, inquired why other major health issues facing the Harlem community such as HIV/AIDS and cancer were not being addressed. Davis said planning was already underway for a second conference but that feedback from this event would be used to determine which health issues to delve into next.
The goal for this weekend's conference is to provide the knowledge for people to make informed, healthy decisions about their lives.
"Most of the beginnings of these health issues are manageable but you have to be educated and proactive," said Davis. "We hope that people will come out and benefit from information and take better charge of their lives."