WASHINGTON -- Murder and AIDS joined forces to reduce life expectancy among blacks in 1988, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services said yesterday in its annual report on the state of American health. The report found that an overall health gap between blacks and whites continued to widen.
At the same time, there was some encouraging news: Preliminary figures showed the death rate in 1990 of American infants took its sharpest drop in a decade.
The life expectancy of a black male dropped from 65.2 years in 1987 to 64.9 years in 1988 -- the last year for which final figures were available -- primarily because of an increase in deaths from homicide and acquired immune deficiency syndrome, the report said. For black females, the 1988 life expectancy was 73.4 years, down from 73.6 years in 1987.
"In fact since 1984, black life expectancy has declined each year,"said HHS Secretary Louis W. Sullivan. "This continuing crisis demands our nation's serious, constant attention."
Since 1981, life expectancy for white males has risen steadily, to 72.3 years in 1988. For white females it was 78.9 years, the same as 1987.
The causes of death which have contributed most to the disparity in life expectancy among blacks and whites were cardiovascular diseases, homicide, cancers and infant mortality.
Throughout the 1980s, infant mortality has remained twice as high among blacks as whites, according to the report.
To reverse the trend, Dr. Sullivan said, his department will focus on early care for children that includes immunizations and screenings, prevention education for minorities, better access to health care and the provision of more health professionals in poorly served areas.
Dr. Sullivan also said he would not push for any new government programs, noting that the Bush Administration already has proposed expanding Medicaid and Head Start, which covers a wide array of services for low-income preschool children.
As he was speaking, more than 100 members of a Chicago-based community action group called National People's Action got past security guards at HHS headquarters and staged a protest inside.
Chanting "HHS is a mess -- people are dying while Louis is lying," demonstrators demanded to speak with Dr. Sullivan about the poor's inability to get health care.