Doctors speak out: ‘There is no stopping Covid-19 without stopping racism’

U.S. Air Force / Senior Airman Christian Conrad

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Civil Rights issued guidance this Monday on preventing racial discrimination in an ongoing response to the COVID-19 national public health crisis.

The guidelines address the disproportionate number of black and brown people affected by the coronavirus. The HHS is working to ensure that testing sites are accessible to marginalized communities and that people of color are not subjected to longer waiting periods in health care facilities or denied care “compared to similarly situated non-minority individuals.”

“Minorities have long experienced disparities related to the medical and social determinants of health — all of the things that contribute to your health and wellbeing,” said Surgeon General Jerome Adams on the HHS website.

And he’s right.

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A 2010 report from the American College of Physicians states that racial health care disparities include stereotyping, poor access to health coverage and providers, and communication and cultural barriers.

Black people experiencing discrimination in health care is nothing new in America.

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Stereotypes such as black people having higher levels of creatinine remain contested. Still, it’s the harmful generalization that all non-white people suffer from the same genetic predisposition that leads to misdiagnoses.

The Washington Post reported that 86 percent of over 50,000 medical malpractice claims evaluated by a leading healthcare professional had to do with a misdiagnosis resulting in death or disability.

Mental illness misdiagnosis in black Americans has been a subject of study from the 1980s to as recently as 2018. A Rutgers University study found that 19 percent of 599 black patients diagnosed with schizophrenia screened positive for depression, compared to three-percent of 1,058 white patients.

The research concluded that racial bias in diagnosing schizophrenia may result “from clinicians underemphasizing the relevance of mood symptoms among African Americans compared with other racial or ethnic groups.”

So how does coronavirus disproportionately affect black communities?

Black man wearing a face mask

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Data collected from the Washington D.C. Department of Health has shown that black people comprise 47% of confirmed cases, yet make up 80% of deaths from coronavirus.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention stated that as of June 12, black and indigenous people of color experience the highest rates of hospitalization or death from coronavirus, with black people at a hospitalization rate five times that of a white person.

“Health differences between racial and ethnic groups result from inequities in living, working, health, and social conditions that have persisted across generations,” the CDC reported. “In public health emergencies, such as the COVID-19 pandemic, these conditions can also isolate people from the resources they need to prepare for and respond to outbreaks.”

These guidelines should serve as a reminder that any federally financed institution can’t discriminate based on race. Establishing guidelines to prevent discriminatory healthcare practices during the pandemic could be the first step in readdressing decades of gross medical malpractice, especially if the administration hindering further progress gets ousted after the November elections.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has magnified those disparities,” Jerome Adams continues to say in the statement made by HHS. “…it has also given us the opportunity to acknowledge their existence and impact, and deepen our resolve to address them.”

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