#AidsVirtual2020: Health disparities and Covid-19

Systemic racism affects healthcare to people of color

Racism and Covid-19 represent a double pandemic for black peopleto the detriment of their health, say experts at the virtual International Aids Conference, known as Aids 2020 

Perpetual disadvantage 

Speaking at the conference, Professor Cato Laurencin from the University of Connecticut Health Centre said ethnic minorities tend to receive a lower quality of health care than white people, which can be a major factor in the Covid-19 increase rates, whether it be called unconscious bias, stereotyping, prejudice, contributes to the health care disparities [and] the high rates of deaths that we’re seeing among the black population, he said. 

 Rana Zoe Mungin, a bright and young 30yearold black woman was twice denied Covid-19 testing and died, her story is one example of the long-standing disparities that exist for black [people] and their ability to access adequate health care,” Laurencin said. 

He added that in health care institutions, medical mistrust is fuelled by police racism and medical mistreatment could be a contributing factor to the rise of Covid-19 cases in the black population.  

“Racism and Covid-19 represent a pandemic on a pandemic for black people. This interplay acts in a number of ways, the direct and indirect consequences of racist policing can vary from direct trauma to PTSD [post-traumatic stress disorder] type symptoms to effects such as medical mistrust and mistreatment that create the ultimate existing condition, Laurencin told attendees at the Johnson and Johnson session at Aids 2020. 

According to Macaya Douoguih, head of clinical development and medical affairs at Janssen Vaccinesracism in any form is unacceptable. She added as an organisation, it is important that they contribute to tackling Covid-19 in society and also seek to improve health and reduce disparities. 

She maintained that there are disparities in terms of severity and health outcomes in Covid-19 cases. “This is not a new phenomenon. We’ve seen this in our HIV community. We’ve been battling and battling this for decades. And today in terms of HIV, [the affected] faces are majority predominantly brown and black,” she added“We stand united with the global community to try and help eliminate health disparities, as we are trying to also make HIV history.” 

Janssen Vaccines, according to Douoguih, has started a clinical development programme, and is also pressing forward with urgency to address the disparities in care and outcomes as they start their clinical trials. 

Don’t neglect the entire health system  

“Pandemics like HIV, like Covid-19, they tend to consume all of our attention because they just bring the fragility and the inequity of our health systems into sharp relief,” said Joanne Peter, director of social innovation in Johnson and Johnson‘s global community impact team. 

 “To become single minded and our attack on this one viral enemy we want, of course what we see over and over again is that when we adopt this vertical disease specific approach, and then we divert all of our resources towards specific therapies or solutions, or maybe it’s ventilators or ICU beds. We detract from the delivery of comprehensive primary health care rooted in communities, which must anchor any equitable health system, she said. 

Peter said that as it happened with HIV, where there were vertical disease specific approaches for a single pathogen, but they set back the primary health care gains of the late 1970s by many years and resulted oftentimes in fragmented and parallel systems rather than quality health care across the board for all. 

According to Peter, with the Ebola outbreak in 2014, there were more deaths due to treatable preventable conditions like malariameasles, tuberculosis, and HIV. 

And we saw increases in maternal and infant mortality because women couldn’t access routine maternal health services. And already now with Covid-19, we’re seeing massive disruptions to childhood immunisation programmes,” she added. 

Some modelling studies estimates have indicated that more than a million children in low- and middle-income countries could die due to the indirect result of disrupted health services and lack of access to nutrition as a result of Covid-19. So instead, according to Peter it is important  to remain rooted in primary and community health. That means engaging and educating communities, investing in solutions that strengthen the health system for the long term. 

“As Johnson and Johnson, we’ve responded to this by launching the centre for health worker innovation. It focuses on nurses, midwives, and community health workers who are the heart of our primary and community health systems and a vital bridge to communities.” – Health-e News  

 For more information on Covid-19 in South Africa, you can call the toll-free line on 0800 029 999, or you can send a message that says “Hi” on WhatsApp to the number 060 012 3456. You can also visit the  SA Coronavirus website.    



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