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How Do We Fix Racial Disparities in Healthcare?

Updated: Sep 27, 2020

With the U.S battling a police violence crisis on top of a pandemic, it's only relevant that we address the racial disparities in healthcare. As Covid-19 case demographics are being released, it's more clear than ever the historical inequities of American society.

What should you know about the health demographics?

Dr. Lisa Cooper, a distinguished professor at Johns Hopkins University's Bloomberg School of Public Health, highlights and summarizes these demographics: across adulthood, "African Americans are more likely to die of all causes.. compared to their white counterparts... Latinx communities and Native Americans suffer from higher rates of obesity and diabetes than whites." For these minority groups' total share of the total population, infection and death rates are disproportionately high.

It's important to recognize that among these health disparities are “preventable differences in the burden of disease, injury, violence, or in opportunities to achieve optimal health that are experienced by socially disadvantaged populations.In other words, African Americans, Latinx, and other minority groups are disadvantageous in obtaining preventative healthcare that would protect them from more severe health problems later on in their lives.

As for COVID-19, race demographics are difficult to find because "racial and ethnic information is currently available for only about 35% of the total deaths in the U.S." But, in this limited sample of states reporting racial/ethnic information, "Black Americans who represent only about 13% of the population, account for about 34% of total COVID-19 deaths in those states. Asian Americans and Latinx Americans also show elevated impacts in some regions."

What is residential segregation and does it exist?

Residential segregation is where "a typical white person who lives in a neighborhood that is 75 percent white and 8 percent African American, a typical African American person lives in a neighborhood that is only 35 percent white and 45 percent African American." It's also where "a low-income African American person is more than three times more likely to live in a neighborhood with a poverty rate of 40 percent or more than a white person is, and [where] a low-income Latino person is more than twice as likely to live in such a neighborhood." Residential segregation came about through physical manifestation of plans, policies, and practices directed at Black Americans that have systematically denied equal opportunity to minority populations among other racial ethnicities.

The issue with poverty is that factors like race make certain groups systematically more likely to live in low-income areas. A physician shortage in the areas where we most need them- areas with the greatest need for healthcare- further creates the disparity in certain ethnicities' access to healthcare. Indeed, higher disability rates and lower life expectancy prove groups that are more likely to live in low-income, are compromised when it comes to healthcare.

Camara Phyllis Jones, an epidemiologist at the Morehouse School of medicine, states that residential segregation is the cause of health disparities. Acknowledging the divide in Americans, "If you asked most white people in this country today, they would be in denial that racism exists and continues to have profound impacts on opportunities and exposures, resources and risks. But COVID-19 and the statistics about black excess deaths are pulling away that deniability."

Why is it important to track racism in healthcare?

Racial disparities in health care exist similar to the existence of systemic racism in the United States. Johns Hopkins University emphasizes the importance of states tracking COVID-19 cases by race: to understand which communities to finance and target help. While this is true, unless we address systems built on racist values, no matter how much we pour our nation's wealth into providing through charitable means, racism will only adapt to new conditions.

This notion is not unfamiliar, dozens of articles on the internet that address racism and discrimination in health care advocates for addressing the issues of race head-on. We need local communities uprooting systemic racism one issue at a time, starting with acknowledging an implicit bias towards healthcare providers and patients. Evelynn Hammonds, Professor of the History of Science and Professor of African and African-American Studies at Harvard University, calls for more academic engagement: a change in educational system so that more students can understand the importance of equality in public health.


For more information about racial inequities in healthcare:

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