The coronavirus is disproportionately affecting Black Americans and intensifying social determinants of health.
Social determinants of health are conditions in which people live, work, and learn that impact health risks and health outcomes. COVID-19 is showing the world how social determinants of health, matter, especially to Black Americans.
According to The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, social determinants of health include factors like socioeconomic status, education, neighborhood, and physical environment, employment, and social support networks, as well as access to health care. Addressing social determinants of health is vital for improving health and reducing health disparities. There are a growing number of initiatives to shape policies and practices in non-health sectors in ways that promote health and health equity like Medicaid-specific initiatives. However, many challenges remain and are visible in the COVID-19 data.
There are over 1.4 million cases of the coronavirus worldwide, according to Johns Hopkins University, and more than 80,000 deaths. Today, as stated by Worldometer, there are 400,412 coronavirus cases and 12,854 deaths in the US. The majority of fatalities are disproportionately Black. Nikole Hannah-Jones has done a great job aggregating the data in a Twitter thread:
- In Chicago, 61 of the 86 recorded deaths — or 70% — were Black residents. Blacks make up 29% of Chicago’s population.
- Blacks account for 35% of confirmed cases and 40% of deaths from COVID-19 in Michigan.
- African Americans made up almost half of Milwaukee County’s 945 cases and 81% of its 27 deaths in a county whose population is 26% black.
- Blacks make up 59% of the total COVID-19-related deaths in Washington, DC. DC’s population is 49%, Black.
Now, even as Black Americans risk higher exposure, they are already disproportionately suffering the comorbidities that make COVID-19 so deadly. Nikole Hannah-Jones explains, “Black Americans are 40 % more likely to have hypertension than white, twice as likely to have diabetes, up to 3x asthma hospitalization.” Additionally, poor Black people are more vulnerable to COVID-19. Blacks are more likely to work service sector jobs where they can’t practice social distancing and work from home.
So what do we do? Below are just a few ways to address the social determinants of health and help those most at risk:
- More governments need to start tracking data on the race of COVID-19 patients and provide more community engagement & services to address social needs in the short-term and the long-term.
- We should do everything possible to encourage more Black and brown people to join the health industry. Health care professionals should look like the communities they serve, and right now, the health industry has a discrepancy. Only 10–12% of CEO roles at health startups are women, according to Stat News, yet 78% of women consider themselves to be the primary health care decision-maker for their households. Furthermore, of the total number of therapists in the US, only 4% are African American, while 38% of the US population is a racial/ethnic minority. We need talented and skillful STEM innovators to fight the disease and the next global pandemic.
- Provide greater access to transportation and food. In DC alone, so many live in food deserts where the walking distance to a grocery store is more than 0.5 miles.
- Invest in entrepreneurs building telehealth applications so consumers can get the necessary treatment tailored to their race, gender, culture, religion, or class. The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) has loosened the regulations for telemedicine in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Telehealth services may now be delivered to Medicare beneficiaries by phone as long as video capability is available.
- Test new models to address the social determinants of health through established organizations. Ohio-based Molina Healthcare, a Fortune 500 company, recently announced the launch of its Social Determinants of Health Innovation Center. The Innovation Center will expand member engagement and support by developing programs and best practices to address health care access barriers created by social factors.