Community health epidemics are now facing almost every big city in the country and some rural areas also.

New York City is facing a triple threat. Mayor Michael Bloomberg is forcing large cutbacks in basic health care services. Gov. George Pataki is making matters worse as deals with the state’s $12 billion deficit by cutting back on the state’s Department of Health programs and subsidies to New York City. In addition, the city will suffer from President Bush’s economic and fiscal policies.

These conditions are making diseases skyrocket, especially diseases that affect working-class and poor people because of limited health services. These already limited services are being greatly diminished every day. The depth of this crisis is catastrophic.

For example, the New York City Commissioner of Health has announced that the percentage of adult New Yorkers with diabetes has doubled since 1994, from 3.7 percent to 7.9 percent of the city’s population. “While more than 450,000 New Yorkers know that they have diabetes,” he said, “it is estimated that approximately one-third of all diabetes cases remain undiagnosed.”

The commissioner also repored that this is preventable. “Diabetes is a serious, but largely preventable and manageable condition. With regular exercise and weight control, people can reduce their risk of developing diabetes by 60 percent,” he said.

The Health Department report continues, “Complications from diabetes include heart disease, stroke, blindness, kidney failure, foot and leg amputations, and difficult pregnancies. It is the sixth leading cause of death in New York City.”

There are strong indications that race plays a major role in this death and disability rate. “Hispanics are four times more likely to have diabetes than whites and Asians. Blacks are twice as likely to have diabetes than whites and Asians.”

It is not a secret that available health services and public health educational services have been cut over the years for Black and Latino communities. These essential services are the only means through which people learn about the health services that they have a right to. Without these educational programs, health services are not utilized. This then provides the phony basis to cut these programs back.

The planned cutbacks will make all of these numbers even worse.

The numbers of sexually transmitted diseases are also on the rise, even though they are totally preventable. According to the city’s Health Department figures there has been a 55 percent rise in syphilis cases in the last year.

Mobilizing the victims of this public health crisis is a high priority. It is the duty and responsibility of all elected officials, along with community and labor activists, to come to the aid of people in crisis. The broadest coalition of labor unions, community organizations and faith organizations must demand a tax on the rich and powerful, both personal wealth and corporate profits.

Ending the war budget and these simple economic tax policies would reverse this economic disaster.

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