RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) – It is estimated that 68 people die from heart disease every hour of every day in the United States. Certain racial and ethnic groups are even more at risk, so now Virginia health officials are working to get new allies in their fight.
From the conference room to the congregation, the Virginia Department of Health’s Office of Minority Health and Health Equity is reaching out to the faith-based community for help.
“Cardiovascular diseases and stroke are leading of causes of death in the United States, likewise in Virginia,” explains Augustine Doe, VDH Health Equity Specialist.
“My dad, from my dad’s side, all of my dad’s family, mom, sisters, brothers died from heart problem,” says Pastor Joe Reeves from Tabernacle of Praise Ministries, knowing his story is one that too many people share.
Virginia’s new 100 Congregations for Million Hearts initiative takes the message to the pulpit and the pew. Representatives from all religions are invited to sign up to promote diet, exercise and how issues like homelessness and food deserts contribute to hypertension and overall heart health.
“I think that mind, body and spirit are all connected,” says Minister Diane Harris of Saint Stephen’s Koinonia Church about why she is committed to the program. “If you are not not doing well in your physical being, it’s going to effect the other areas, including the spiritual areas of your life.”
“One of the things clearly is just hands-on and actually getting a lot of young people involved,” adds Umar Kenyatta of the Islamic Center of Virginia and African American Muslim Congress. “And that whole capacity to make communication and become a more family-centered, in that regard.”
So far, fourteen Virginia congregations have enrolled in the program, and the goal is to have one hundred signed up this year.
“If you can’t care for yourself, you can’t care for nobody else,” says Reeves.