Recently, we participated in the Nevada Faith and Health Coalition meeting led by Bishop Ron Thomas, a member (or Promise Partner) of the West Las Vegas Promise Neighborhood’s Healthy Children, Families, and Communities Pillar. Several Promise Partners attended, including Debra Toney and Debra Collins, chair and vice-chair of the Nevada Action Coalition. The “Debras” spoke passionately about health disparities and how these disparities are highlighted as we navigate the COVID-19 health crisis.  Health disparities are defined as the difference in the incidence, prevalence, morbidity, mortality, and burden of diseases and other adverse conditions that exist among specific population groups. 

African-Americans are Dying Disproportionately from the Coronavirus.

To be clear, this is a disease that anyone can get, but there is evidence that it has been more deadly for people of color (mortality). It is extra-lethal for communities of color who are already suffering from multiple preexisting conditions (morbidity). Black and brown communities have a disproportionate share of high blood pressure, asthma, diabetes, and obesity. Each one of these factors – especially high blood pressure – makes it easy for the virus to kill you. That’s why people in their 30s, 40s, and 50s are dying from this virus in the black community. 

Harvard experts report that the pandemic exacerbates longstanding inequities in American society. A recent CDC report found that among “580 hospitalized COVID-19 patients with race/ethnicity data, approximately 45 percent were white, 33 percent were black, and 8 percent were Hispanic, suggesting that black populations might be disproportionately affected by COVID-19.” A Washington Post analysis revealed that in places such as Chicago and Louisiana, African Americans account for 67 and 70 percent of COVID-19-related deaths, respectively while representing only 32 percent of the population. Experts expect to see more numbers like these as more states and cities report.

Essential Workers are in Essential Danger

Additionally, Debra Toney made a profound statement, she said, “Living in poverty is expensive.” This could not be truer, and now, during this global pandemic, it is also dangerous. Blacks suffer from an epidemic of poverty and low-wage jobs. Blacks are the ones working in the grocery store or dropping off packages. They are called “essential workers,” but that also means that they are in essential danger. Few, if any, are getting the kind of hazard pay they deserve since they are risking their lives to keep America functioning during this crisis. Moreover, too many African-Americans are underinsured and underemployed. Therefore, when a pandemic hits or a natural disaster (like Hurricane Katrina), blacks are especially vulnerable. 

So, what do we do? We must work to improve the health of all individuals, particularly communities of color. Why? Because communities of color often suffer from higher rates of death (mortality) and disease (morbidity). Therefore, no matter your role, eliminating health disparities must be an integral component of any healthcare initiative.  

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