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Coronavirus Is Not Our Only National Health Crisis

By: Naveed Shah

If asked to remember the many aspects of 2020 that stood out to you, what would come to mind? Would it be the excessive baking, Zoom calls, toilet paper shortage, homeschooling or the embarrassing TikTok videos that we’re hoping the world will soon forget? It is safe to say that the year 2020 is like no other.

As the world continues to grapple with the coronavirus, it has become quite clear that this is not the only emergency facing the country today. Following the release of the video that exposed the tragic, unjust killing of George Floyd, there was an immediate uproar across the United States and throughout the world.

There is no denying that there is a massive problem with racism in this country. Some cities have been acknowledging it as a public health crisis. The coronavirus exposes these problems of racial inequity; racial and ethnic minority groups continue to be hit the hardest by this virus.

There are myriad factors that have contributed to differences in health outcomes between various racial and ethnic groups, which have allowed minorities to historically be disproportionately affected. One such example is access to healthcare.

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), racial and ethnic minority groups are more likely to be uninsured when compared to their white counterparts. Between 2010 and 2018, compared to white people, the uninsurance rate for Hispanics was 2.5 times higher. For African Americans, this number was 1.5 times higher, and American Indians and Alaska Natives had an uninsured rate that was 2.9 times higher than whites. Studies have shown that those who are uninsured are more likely to delay receiving care or disregard it altogether.

Other problems include language barriers, lack of transportation or childcare or busy work schedules. Moreover, the historic discrimination present in healthcare has led to problems associated with trust. Many racial and ethnic minorities may be hesitant to step foot in a hospital if they or a loved one has experienced discrimination there.

This institutional racism is prevalent; the CDC establishes that Black women face a maternal mortality rate of more than double that of white women. Research on racial disparities in healthcare involved patients describing their experiences with inequity. “The Washington Post” found that the pain of Black women is more likely to be disregarded by medical professionals, endangering their health and lives.

Discrimination has been a systemic problem--one that is found in educational systems, housing, criminal justice, and, of course, healthcare. According to the CDC, discrimination leads to chronic and toxic stress, which in turn takes a large toll on the body. This increases susceptibility to immune disorders, chronic fatigue and metabolic disorders. These health problems further increase an individual’s risk to the coronavirus.

Employment has also contributed to racial disparities in health outcomes. Individuals were faced with job loss or had no choice but to continue working, exposing themselves to the virus. According to a recent analysis of demographic data of frontline workers, African Americans were more likely than any other worker to be working front line jobs, and African American women making up a disproportionate number of those unemployed.

Racial and ethnic minority groups may also belong to cultures in which homes are shared by multiple generations. If many of these frontline workers are returning to shared homes, they risk exposing the virus to their families.

Now that the problem of systemic racism has been established, how do we ensure that those of racial and ethnic minority groups are protected? The CDC recently released strategies that aimed to promote health equity amidst COVID-19.

The first strategy highlights research to understand factors that contribute to the disparities of coronavirus in racial minority communities. The next strategy is to expand COVID management services, providing high-risk populations with options for testing, isolation and contact tracing, followed by measures to protect frontline workers. Lastly, expanding the healthcare workforce to be more diverse is essential to achieving medical equity.

To begin to solve these problems, we all need to educate ourselves on barriers affecting racial and ethnic minorities. Many of these problems are prevalent in our own communities, schools, and workplaces.

I hope to see a greater initiative to make healthcare more accessible to minority communities that are experiencing a shortage of physicians. To bridge the communication gap, I hope to see more physicians and healthcare professionals that are fluent in another language as well as medical schools providing opportunities for students to learn another language and receive education about racial discrimination and bias.

To reduce the fear associated with healthcare that minorities experience, I hope to see more outreach programs for such communities. Overall, I hope to see greater diversity in the medical field, with physicians equipped with cultural competency and understanding of challenges specific racial groups face.

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