COVID-19 shined a light on racial health disparities. What comes next?
Racial health disparities were known long before COVID-19 was a blip on a world news briefing in the U.S. Former U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Margaret Heckler wrote in a 1985 report from her Task Force on Black and Minority Health that such disparities have been present in federal records ever since accurate federal record-keeping began. And Heckler’s report, the first comprehensive study of racial and ethnic minority health by the U.S. government, looked at two years of averages and determined about 60,000 deaths, or 42.3% of deaths, of Black people under the age of 70 were considered “excess.” The report also determined six key factors, including cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes, and homicide, that drove higher death rates among Black people and it made recommendations to address the concerns, such as training in the medical community on cultural sensitivity, more education, and the gathering of more data. There hasn’t been a ton of progress since then, said Wayne State University President Dr. M. Roy Wilson. Wilson served as a deputy director at the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities under the National Institutes of Health and is a member of the Michigan Coronavirus Task Force on Racial Disparities. “We understand a little bit more now about what some of the underlying issues are, but there are intractable issues … some of them are things like education and income and other things which are bigger societal problems,” he said. COVID-19, with its fast onset, simply showed the results of health disparities faster than all the other illnesses health disparities cause, Wilson said. One thing isn’t talked about enough, said Wilson. That's how Michigan responded when the racial gaps in COVID-19 deaths were identified. The success has been “remarkable,” he said.
February 11, 2021