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CDC says racism is a ‘threat to public’s health’

The agency says many are at a disadvantage when it comes to living a healthy lifestyle.
Updated: Apr. 9, 2021 at 6:22 PM CDT
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NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - From food deserts to a lack of healthcare facilities, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention acknowledged that racism is a serious threat to the public’s health.

CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky responded to the COVID-19 pandemic in communities of color that have experienced disproportionate case counts and deaths by saying:

“Racism is not just the discrimination against one group based on the color of their skin or their race or ethnicity, but the structural barriers that impact racial and ethnic groups differently to influence where a person lives, where they work, where their children play, and where they gather in community.”

“We can’t go back and change the past, but what we can do is we can invest in those communities now,” Dr. Thomas LaVeist, Dean of Tulane University’s School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine.

Dr. LaVeist is a leading researcher on the topic of health disparities. He also a co-chair of the Louisiana COVID-19 Health Equity Task Force by Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards.

“People who are subject to racism themselves begin to incorporate and believe these negative values about themselves which is, of course, a devastating form of racism,” he said, adding it can negatively affect the mental and physical health of millions of people-- even perhaps leading them to unhealthy behaviors.

Dr. LaVeist said those affected by racism typically live in communities that have been struggling from a lack of investment for decades.

“If you’ve got a vaccine that needs to be kept at -70 degrees and there is no facility with a freezer that can do that within miles of that community, how do you administer a vaccine that community?” he said.

At Xavier University, a COVID-19 vaccine event brought 3,000 doses to anyone in need. President Reynold Verret said when it comes to the overall health of oppressed communities, representation matters.

“You want representation in medicine, representation in courts, representation in Congress, representation in classrooms. It’s important that we are one people,” he said. “Denialism keeps us from confronting our realities and the only way we can move forward is by acknowledging our realities.”

A reality where people are living in communities with differential access to resources that are necessary to live a healthy lifestyle.

“I think the CDC taking on racism as a health risk factor is extremely important as long as it comes with the change in the allocation of resources and emphasis on programming to address racism and health,” said LaVeist.

With COVID-19 funding, the CDC is investing in racial and ethnic communities around the country, providing resources to address health concerns. The agency hopes to address the long-standing social and racial injustices across the U.S. as a way to achieve equitable healthcare for all.

“Health care providers and public health practitioners have increasingly understood and sounded the alarm about racism as a threat to the well-being and longevity to residents of color. said Dr. Jennifer Avegno, Director of the New Orleans Health Department. “Direct negative impacts have been shown both from individual bias - implicit and explicit - as well as the persistent legacies of systems designed to exclude Black residents from the highest access to care. In New Orleans, our most recent Community Health Assessment found that on nearly every measure of health studied, Black residents had worse outcomes than Whites. This mirrors national findings that even when other factors such as income and education are accounted for, the insidious and pervasive effects of racism cause needless excess morbidity and mortality. At NOHD, we are pleased to see the CDC recognize racism as a threat to health - just as they have identified other social determinants - and look forward to continuing to do the hard work to address and dismantle inequities in the health system.”

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