April 2020, Rev. Paula Stewart
I’m in my feelings right now. I worked in health care for twenty years, specifically in the community health center movement to serve under served populations, namely African Americans living in food deserts, poor housing and segregated communities. The health indices of the population demonstrated high blood pressure, high cholesterol, asthma, diabetes, high infant mortality and high maternal mortality. These community health centers came into being as a supposed “war on poverty” initiative to make health care more accessible, especially preventative health care. Here we are in 2020, there is a pandemic virus, COVID 19 and it’s killing African Americans at an alarming rate. Has anything changed? Our communities are still suffering adverse conditions due to lifestyle and systematic exclusion from adequate health care interventions.
Vanessa Northington Gamble, a physician and American medical historian, wrote in 2010 about when the Spanish Flu pandemic struck the world, saying, “African Americans were already beset by a host of major public health, medical, and social problems that shaped how they experienced the epidemic and how the epidemic affected them. Although the epidemic probably had a less devastating impact on African American communities, it still overwhelmed their medical and public health resources.”
Now, amid the coronavirus outbreak, hospitals from Wisconsin to Maryland that serve African American communities are being inundated with COVID-19 patients. Despite a century of public health lessons, it seems communities of color will pay the price for this pandemic.
Sacred Sisters, we are part of the African American community; it is our relatives that are being infected and then dying. I would surmise that a good many of us are in the high risk groups with our own diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, asthma and other health problems. We may be next.
An article in “Mother Jones” Journal cites the following:
In early April, Mother Jones began requesting racial and ethnic breakdowns of COVID-19 infections and deaths from health departments in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. Of those, 21 states released no racial or ethnic breakdowns of those infected. Twenty-six states failed to release breakdowns of fatalities by race, and among the states that did, the information was inconsistently formatted... Preliminary data analysis by Mother Jones finds that Black people overall have disproportionately contracted and died from the coronavirus. In 20 of the 28 states plus DC for which a usable racial breakdown of infection data was provided, Black people make up a larger share of coronavirus infections than they do of the general population.
There is no one cause of the racial disparities, says Thomas LaVeist, dean of the Tulane School of Public Health & Tropical Medicine. We can’t forget how racially segregated this country is by design.” LaVeist says. “This is an outward manifestation of structural racism where African Americans are at an increased risk.”
Citing the disparities in disease rates and outcomes between Black and white Americans, Clyde Yancy, chief of cardiology at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine, calls this a “moment of ethical reckoning” in an editorial in the Journal of the American Medical Association. He points out that infection rates were three times higher in counties with mostly Black people than in predominantly white counties.
As Sacred Sisters our vision states: We are clergywomen of African descent who pursue transformational wholeness for ourselves, our communities and the world.
We’ve got some work to do; COVID 19 has put a spotlight on the disparities that are still rampant in our communities. May we be the change that is needed; it is urgent; our people are dying and we may be next.