Health Disparities and COVID-19

At the end of the 15th Century, Europeans noticed a “new” disease (syphilis) and promptly blame-named it for their neighbors/rivals; the French called it the “Neapolitan Disease;” their Neapolitan foes labeled it the “French Disease.” People who attack Chinese and Asians, blaming them for COVID-19 are stuck in a 15th C. mentality. Most evolved humans understand that “infectious disease dynamics are nonlinear and intrinsically chaotic.”* In other words, infectious diseases don’t follow rules; they remind humans that we don’t control our destiny – often, tiny organisms do.

As we face this deadly threat, many humans suffer to varying degrees from the virus while others suffer economic and political consequences of efforts to prevent and control its contagion, illness and death.

Our national heritage of racial and ethnic health disparities has resulted in unequal participation in healthcare system. CDC defines health disparities as: preventable differences in the burden of disease, injury, violence, or opportunities to achieve optimal health that are experienced by socially disadvantaged populations. Minorities disproportionately suffer from diseases and conditions such as pneumonia/influenza, diabetes, asthma, cardiovascular disease, cancers, infant mortality and lower life expectancy. These disparities are due to access barriers, misinformation and misunderstanding.

Barriers to healthcare access involve low income, lack of insurance, inability to take time off for medical appointments, and older persons’ inability to pay for Medicare Part B, that would cover almost all medical procedures. However, a major barrier is African Americans’ and other minorities’ well-founded cynicism and mistrust of the healthcare system.

This mistrust stems from 300+ years of abuse of minorities in medicine and research; including: “slave medicine,” brutally focused on keeping men working and women reproducing; unauthorized removal of bodies and tissues (e.g., Henrietta Lacks); dangerous prisoner research; involuntary sterilization; and the infamous Tuskegee Study (Syphilis in the Negro Male).

Some healthcare professionals still believe myths about minorities’ physiology and psychology; for example: higher pain and heat tolerance, immunity to diseases like malaria and yellow fever, mental inferiority and predispositions to hypersexuality and
violence.

After writing this essay, I found that other writers were publishing eloquent articles on this theme.

The following articles are from the National Urban League:
https://nul.org/news/coronavirus-crisis-highlights-racial-disparity-healthcare-and-economy
and US News & World Report:
https://www.usnews.com/news/healthiest-communities/articles/2020-03-25/whyblack-americans-face-an-uphill-battle-against-the-coronavirus

We’re all facing uncertain times. Wash your hands, keep physical distance, but also tend to your souls and respect our shared fears. The interdependent web of existence through which viruses and humans attack also serves as a highway of hope and love.

* Brown, Jeremy. Influenza: The Hundred Year Hunt to Cure the Deadliest Disease in History (p. 98). Atria Books. Kindle Edition.