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.
This is not biological; the root cause is structural racism. Social determinants directly impact health, and 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 than others. 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 socioeconomic status 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.
Studies continue to demonstrate these racial disparities in healthcare; doctors provide black patients with lower quality healthcare 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.
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 to develop. In Michigan, black people make up 15% of the population, yet they accounted for 33% of individuals who tested positive for the coronavirus and 50% of deaths. The UK shows that while ethnic groups account for only 13% of the population, they make up 33% of infected individuals. Similarly, in states such as Tennessee, black patients with COVID-19 symptoms are less likely to even be tested than white patients. In Illinois, black patients comprised 37% of confirmed cases and 45% of deaths, while only representing 16% of the population.
While we’ve made progress in the fight for equality, the facts are plain and simple: black patients are not receiving healthcare that is up to par with that of white patients. These inequalities expose the pressing need for interventions and modified healthcare. 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
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