Colour bar: Raging coronavirus in the US demonstrates how race matters for health

Colour bar: Raging coronavirus in the US demonstrates how race matters for health


The coronavirus pandemic has, once again, highlighted the complex links between inequality, racism and disease risk in America.

According to Harvard public health scholar David Williams, although the pandemic affects everyone, but in the United States, communities of colour have recorded a disproportionate number of cases, hospitalisations and deaths.

Dr Williams, a renowned scholar, says there is a direct a link between racial discrimination and health and explains that decades of inequality have left populations of Black, Latinx, Native American and others more vulnerable to Covid-19 than Whites.

“Although all Americans are in the same storm – we are in the same pandemic – but we are not in the same boats,” Williams says. “Those boats that have wealth, you are better able to navigate the storm. You’re better able to protect yourself…than those [in] very fragile boats – households that have no wealth.”

Williams says stress – be it economic, psychosocial, environmental or caused by facing racism – increases the risk of conditions such as high blood pressure, obesity and diabetes, all of which are associated with worse outcomes in Covid-19.

“Persons who report high levels of everyday discrimination are more likely to get diabetes. They’re more likely to develop high blood pressure. They’re more likely to become obese. So, across a broad range of indicators…, we find that stress in general and discrimination [in particular] leads to poorer health,” Williams says.

The solutions, he says, lie in recognising the problem we are facing and working to bridge what he calls the “empathy gap” that’s enabled health disparities to persist for so long.

“The biggest challenge that we have is the fact that, to put it bluntly, we don’t care enough about the populations of colour that are suffering this disproportionate burden.”

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