In April we marked World Health Day, a World Health Organization (WHO) celebration that began in 1950. This year’s theme calls for building a fairer, healthier world for everyone. It shines a tragic spotlight on the struggle for equity and the health inequities minorities face, especially with COVID-19.
The lessons of COVID
According to the CDC and others tracking the pandemic, minorities are much more likely to get COVID, to land in the hospital, and to die.
Before the pandemic, “I would have been comfortable saying we are making progress [with health inequities],” Eliseo J. Perez-Stable, MD, director of the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities, told Senior Planet, although he quickly added that the progress was ”painfully slow and gradual.” Gains had been made in insurance availability and in childhood immunizations, for instance.
Then came COVID, which Perez-Stable blames for tragic backsliding. Even the most knowledgeable experts, he says, did not predict the extent of the COVID toll on minorities. The inequities, he says, spring from structural inequities like the inability of many essential minority workers to work from home, the tendency to delay urgent and routine care, and the unequal vaccine distribution.
Rays of Hope
The picture’s not all gloom. The National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities just released its Strategic Plan 2021-2025, emphasizing scientific research on disparities, strengthening that research and adding more advocates and researchers.
And on March 29, President Joe Biden announced expansion of vaccine sites, adding another dozen mass vaccination sites and predicting 90% of Americans would be eligible to get vaccinated within 5 miles of their homes by April 19. Currently, three vaccines (Moderna, Pfizer-BioNTech and J&J have emergency use authorization from the FDA.)
The American Rescue Plan, with its mission to advance racial equity, among other measures, will help, Perez-Stable says. Researchers now have a blueprint for how to conduct better research on minority health and health disparities science, thanks to a new textbook, The Science of Health Disparities Research. Included in the volume, written by NIH and other experts and edited by Perez-Stable and others, is advice on how to diversify scientific research so minorities are fairly studied.
Another plus: President Biden named Marcella Nunez-Smith, MD, chair of the newly-created COVID-19 Health Equity Task Force, a 12-member panel of experts. Already, Nunez-Smith, speaking to health leaders, stressed the need for better data collection and to prioritize equity at every step of pandemic recovery.
What you can do
What can individuals do to help end the inequality? Perez-Stable’s answer might surprise some. “Taking care of yourself helps others,” he says. For starters, get vaccinated against COVID. “Not just for your own good but your loved ones. We don’t do that enough in the U.S. We’re very focused on our own well-being and success.” Thinking on a societal and global levels, he believes, saves lives.
This article offered by Senior Planet and Older Adults Technology Services is for informational purposes only and is not intended to substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding any medical condition. If you think you may have a medical emergency, call your doctor or 911 immediately.
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