Perspective: COVID-19 Puts a Spotlight on the Need for Health Equity
In Michigan, African Americans make up 14% of the population … but account for 40% of the COVID-19 deaths.
In Chicago: 30% of the population … and 46% of the deaths.
In Louisiana: 33% of the population … and 70% of the deaths.
In Washington, D.C.: 44% of the population … and 77% of the deaths.
In New York City, officials report that the virus is twice as deadly for African Americans and Latinos than whites.
And even though Latinos only represent 18% of the U.S. population, they account for more than 26% of the deaths.
Although the data is incomplete, the reports we’ve seen from across the nation indicate that people of color are infected and dying at disproportionately high rates.
The stark numbers are shocking and they demand a robust, multi-faceted, national response to save lives and improve the health of affected communities. While COVID-19 has changed life in our country in many ways, it hasn’t changed our field’s commitment to ensuring that all people, regardless of background or zip code, have equitable access to the highest quality health care. Instead, it’s created an even greater sense of urgency and we’ve redoubled our efforts.
The AHA is working hard to achieve health equity by working with the government to improve data collection to guide policy, and by creating tools and resources to help hospitals and health systems improve health equity in the community.
That’s why, In April, when COVID-19’s disproportionate effects on communities of color began to be seen, we joined the American Medical Association and the American Nurses Association to urge the Department of Health and Human Services to take several immediate steps: collect and report demographic data on infections and deaths; identify and address disparities in the federal response to the pandemic; increase the availability of testing; ensure access to equitable treatment; and develop and share timely, relevant and culturally appropriate and sensitive public health information.
We’re also working with Congress and are pleased that the recently enacted Paycheck Protection Program and Health Care Enhancement Act, or coronavirus legislative package 3.5, requires improved federal data collection and reporting and requires HHS to report to Congress on a plan to improve testing and address disparities. Moreover, just last week, the House passed its latest COVID-19 relief bill, which includes a number of provisions to further enhance data collection and testing, and to address specific needs of many minority communities, including a number of the social determinants of health.
Additionally, AHA has produced several new resources for you, including 5 Actions to Promote Health Equity during the COVID-19 Pandemic; our guide demonstrating how Awareness of Social Needs Can Help Address Health Inequity during COVID-19; and, this recent episode of our Advancing Health podcast discussing how a hospital and a community are working together to serve those most in need in their community during a global pandemic. For more information, visit our Institute for Diversity and Health Equity and AHA Hospital Community Collaborative pages.
Every crisis presents a chance to reexamine how we do things. While health disparities have been front and center for some time, this pandemic makes it even more critical to ensure patients are treated equitably and that all communities get the testing and resources they need to heal.
This should be viewed as yet another wake up call to America about the need to step up and demonstrate our commitment to addressing health equity and social determinants, with a reinvigorated effort in focusing on developing and implementing real solutions that make a difference.
We also must recognize that a key part of this involves making sure that people from diverse backgrounds are given the full opportunity to have leadership roles to help drive the solutions to these complex problems. Improving diversity in leadership in health care, government and all aspects of society will help us address disparities in health care.
We will continue pushing for greater health equity because doing so will help us save lives during this pandemic … and will enable every individual to reach their highest potential for health.
One more thought: As we head into Memorial Day, this is an occasion to honor some very special heroes … those men and women who died in military service for the United States.
These are the people who gave their lives to something bigger than themselves … and they deserve our gratitude not only on Memorial Day but every day.