Dr. Suzanne Afflalo a Health Champion for the Faith-Based Community

“I wanted to develop a program at my church that would directly address lifestyle changes,” Dr. Afflalo, a Champion Health Provider, stated of her work at City of Hope International Church. “That means healthy eating, in terms of better choices of meals, and incorporating an exercise program – focusing on the things that are going to make a difference. So for the people who have health conditions, such as high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes and high cholesterol, we needed a healthy eating program that would address those conditions both directly and indirectly.”

Dr. Suzanne Afflalo is a family physician who has worked at Kaiser Permanente in San Diego for the past 20 years and is a Champion Health Provider with her community of faith. She has partnered with the UC San Diego-Center for Community Health Faith-Based Wellness program as a Wellness Champion. Dr. Afflalo works closely with Lakeysha Sowunmi – Program Manager for the Faith-Based Wellness Program. The Faith-Based Wellness Program is designed to reduce disparities in the incidence of obesity by improving food and physical-activity environments for low-income communities of faith across San Diego County. Together, Sowunmi and Dr. Afflalo have partnered to help faith-based organizations, such as City of Hope International Church, adopt improved health policies. Dr. Afflalo actively participates in speaking engagements and supports the program’s policy, systems and environmental (PSE) changes such as the creation of health ministries, healthy eating/drinking policies and walking clubs in the faith-based settings as well as facilitates important discussions about common dietary practices in the African-American community.

It was recognized at the outset that in order to succeed, the program needed support from community advocates. Health care providers work with patients and their families every day. As a result, the providers know that a patient’s scope of influence goes beyond the individual they meet in the exam room. Thus, health care providers can be effective advocates to mobilize community members and influence policy makers.

Much of Dr. Afflalo’s work involves African-American community members in the faith-based organizations. “There is a significant disparity amongst the minorities, especially African-Americans, in terms of certain conditions such as high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes and an increased risk of stroke and heart attacks, among others,” she says. “I want to try to prevent these early deaths, these strokes and heart attacks, they are unnecessary.” Dr. Affalo continues, “And it’s so preventable. If we can just get the information to them and have them start changing their ways, simple ways, you know it doesn’t take a lot. I’m not expecting a miracle; I’m just expecting small steps from them toward the improvement of their health.”

Dr. Afflalo received her medical degree from George Washington University School of Medicine in Washington, D.C. and completed her family-medicine residency at Kaiser Permanente Medical Center in Los Angeles. She has served as Chief of the Family Medicine Department at Kaiser for six years and has taught many medical students and residents as an associate faculty member at UCSD School of Medicine since 1994. Due to her strong work ethic and investment in her community, Dr. Afflalo has received multiple awards such as the Kaiser Permanente San Diego Family Physician of the Year (2008), and more recently the National Black Police Association’s Community Outreach Award. Dr. Afflalo is currently a board member of the SDBHA (San Diego Black Health Associates) which allows her to work directly in the community doing health education, health screening and outreach. She also serves on the Southeastern San Diego Community Advisory Committee, which provides an opportunity to develop and promote culturally appropriate health policies that improve the overall health of our local community.

To learn more about caring for the community as a Champion Health Provider, listen to your own call to action to improve the communities where we live and contact the UC San Diego Center for Community Health today.

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