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Addressing Racial Disparities in Healthcare

Racial disparities in health outcomes and healthcare, are not rooted biologically or genetically, but socially.

Around the world, people are living in fear of the deadly pandemic, with many going to extremes to stay safe. Unfortunately, safety is not equally accessible, as some groups are more prone to exposure than others. That is, there are significant racial disparities in healthcare and outcomes.

Let’s get one thing out of the way: this is not biological – the root cause is structural racism. It is vital to understand the power of social determinants, which directly impact health. Furthermore, these determinants are influenced by systematic inequalities that have been present for hundreds of years.

Unequal Health Outcomes

Racial and ethnic minorities continue to have earlier illness onsets and more severe diseases than white patients. Moreover, studies show that these groups face higher rates of sickness, impairment, and death. Black people have the highest rate of coronary heart disease deaths in the U.S. In addition, they have higher rates of cardiovascular risk factors than white patients.

Associations Between Racism and Health

Research shows that racism, discrimination, and socioeconomic status are severely associated with health. In fact, people of lower SES are more prone to being exposed to disease. This is because they are more likely to be employed in settings and use transportation where it is easier to be exposed. 

Disparate Healthcare

Studies continue to demonstrate racial disparities in healthcare; doctors provide black patients with lower quality and less effective treatments than that of white patients. A study on U.S. hospitals found that white patients received newer, more expensive, and more progressive treatments than black patients. Black patients were not only discharged earlier than white patients, but were released earlier than deemed medically appropriate.

Not only are there racial disparities, but empirical data illustrates that black women receive unequal healthcare in various ways. For instance, black women experience disproportionate stigmatization and a lack of fertility access. Among breast cancer patients, black patients are less likely than white patients to receive radiation therapy. Additionally, black women are less likely to receive mastectomies in general. Finally, they also face more birth risks, frequently being neglected postpartum.

COVID-19 Exposes Inequalities

As COVID-19 rages on, concerning trends continue developing. In Michigan, black people account for 15% of the population, yet they make up 33% of individuals who tested positive for the coronavirus and 50% of deaths. The United Kingdom‘s population of ethnic groups account is 13%, yet these individuals represent 33% of infected individuals. In Illinois, black patients comprised 37% of confirmed cases and 45% of deaths, while only representing 16% of the population. States such as Tennessee have reported black patients with COVID-19 symptoms being less likely than white patients to be tested. Additionally, testing centers are frequently located in areas mainly comprised of white communities.

While we’ve made progress in the fight for equality, the facts are plain and simple: black patients are not receiving healthcare up to par with that of white patients. These inequalities expose the pressing need for interventions and modifications. Let’s continue to make strides fighting for black lives, because more than ever, action is critical.

“An institution rooted in slavery cannot be the voice of our people.”

Dr. DaShanne Stokes

Featured Image from Mathias P.R. Reding on Pexels.

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