July 20, 1997 Embargoed for July 20, 1997
Reluctant research subjects MINORITIES CAN BENEFIT FROM MEDICAL RESEARCH
They said it couldn’t be done. "You won’t be able to find enough black people willing to participate in your clinical trial," some British researchers warned the American cardiologist from Baltimore. Like many African Americans, the African Caribbeans of England are somewhat suspicious of medical research involving them.
But Dr. Elijah Saunders and his colleagues did it. Head of the Division of Hypertension at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, Saunders not only succeeded in recruiting 150 African Caribbeans in the West Midlands communities of Birmingham and Wolverhampton for a six-week study of blood pressure and salt sensitivity, he had them collecting their urine for 24 hours once a week for six weeks. Also they came to their church hall for weekly examinations. The program in both communities was conducted at churches, where most of the participants were members.
Another 200 black residents of Bristol, Manchester and Wolverhampton were begging him to study their blood pressure as well.
An associate professor of medicine, Saunders will present his preliminary findings at the 12th International Conference on Hypertension in Blacks, in London July 20-23. HIS co-investigators were Professor Gareth Beevers, Drs. Ralph Rogers and Gregory Lip, nurse Ronnie Haynes and many volunteers from the two churches.
Saunders himself is black and has known many of the church participants for years, and of course that helped. "It will get you through the door," he says, "but then you have to stand on your own two feet like anyone else."
An internationally recognized hypertension clinician, educator and researcher whose work focuses on ethnic factors in high blood pressure rates, treatment and prevention, Saunders credits his success in England to his team’s commitment to giving something of value to the people who participated in the study.
"We explained exactly what we were asking them to do and why; we shared the results of all their tests with them and their physicians; and we made a real effort to educate them about positive, preventive lifestyle changes they can make," he said. Follow-up counseling was an integral part of the study. "They knew we weren’t just coming in, taking what we wanted from them without giving them anything in return, then disappearing."
Saunders is deeply concerned about the reluctance of African Americans and other ethnic minorities to participate in medical research that could have crucial implications for their present and future health. He encourages researchers to become more sensitive to ethnic differences in the medical needs of minority groups, to make a special effort to include on their research teams people from the target community, to make results of medical tests available to the people studied and their physicians, and to incorporate an educational/counseling component in research studies. END
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