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“Racism is a serious public health threat that directly affects the well-being of millions of Americans.”–Rochelle P. Walensky, MD, MPH, Director, CDC
The COVID-19 pandemic has made it impossible to ignore how centuries of structural racism have created deep disparities in health outcomes for minority communities.
This month, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention recognized the profound effect of racism on the health of communities of color. Data from the National Center for Health Statistics illustrate the disproportionate burden of COVID-19 deaths among racial and ethnic minority groups. According to the CDC, 34% of deaths were among non-Hispanic Black people, though this group accounts for only 12% of the US population.
The pandemic has brought into focus the startling stratification of healthcare services in the U.S. In addition to having less access to healthcare providers and health insurance, people of color are disproportionately affected by chronic health conditions such as diabetes, asthma, hepatitis and hypertension; infant mortality; maternal mortality; and police brutality. CDC Director Walensky says, “Racism is not just the discrimination against one group based on the color of their skin or their race or ethnicity, but the structural barriers that impact racial and ethnic groups differently.” In order to begin to tackle this situation, the CDC has launched a new web portal, “Racism and Health”, aimed at starting a public discourse around the topic.
In February, 2021, California’s Congresswoman Barbara Lee joined Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley and Senator Elizabeth Warren to reintroduce the Anti-Racism in Public Health Act. H.R 666 is a bill aimed at declaring structural racism a public health crisis and confront its public health impacts.
“We have a moral responsibility to not only confront but dismantle and denounce centuries of racism in our public health system.”–Congresswoman Barbara Lee
California Civil Rights Law Group founding partner Larry Organ says, “People of color in the U.S. embody a wide variety of backgrounds and experiences, but some experiences are shared by many. The U.S. has a history of denying effective healthcare to people of color. Naming racism as a serious health threat is a step in the right direction toward breaching that divide.” He adds, “Even the CDC has not always been forthright in its approach to minorities. There is a residual skepticism caused by the disgraceful treatment of the Tuskegee airmen. Now is a great time for the CDC to highlight and the issue of racism and public health.”