CDC director releases statement declaring racism a 'public health threat'
As Americans collectively grapple with issues of race and attempt to recover from COVID-19 trauma, the Centers for Disease Control has released a statement acknowledging the impact of racism on public health.
Last Thursday, CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky joined a growing chorus of medical professionals who have called out race-based disparities in health care and healthcare access. In her statement, Walensky, a recent Biden administration appointee, identified the broad ranging effects of racism and noted the lifelong impact of racism on communities of color.
"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 worship and gather in community," asserted Walensky.
In a report detailing coronavirus infection, hospitalization, and death rates by race, the CDC identifies race and ethnicity as "risk markers for other underlying conditions that affect health including socioeconomic status, access to health care, and exposure to the virus related to occupation, e.g., frontline, essential, and critical infrastructure workers."
According to Walensky, the CDC has recently developed a series of pro-active steps to combat racism, including expanded research on the relationships between health, race and racism. The CDC will also be directing COVID-19 relief funds into communities of color as part of an effort to create a more robust health infrastructure for residents.
The CDC's voice is not alone in the public discussion of race and health. The American Public Health Association (APHA) reports that there have been nearly 200 public declarations of racism as a public health threat across the country. Six states have officially recognized the impact of race on public health including Minnesota, Virginia, and Michigan. Boston, a city whose residents have long been colloquially characterized as racist, has also recognized racism as a public health threat as well.
Last November, the American Medical Association, instituted an organization-wide policy declaring racism as a public health threat. In response to the CDC's announcement, Susan R. Bailey, AMA's current president, praised Walensky and the CDC for their public statement on the issue.
“As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to disproportionately plague Black and Brown communities, it’s clear that collective action from all stakeholders is needed to dismantle systemic racism and confront, embed, and advance equity across our health care system,” said Bailey.
Our360 News has reprinted the CDC's statement from Dr. Walensky in full below.
Statement from Rochelle P. Walensky, MD, MPH, Director, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in the death of over 500,000 Americans. Tens of millions have been infected. And across this country people are suffering. Importantly, these painful experiences and the impact of COVID-19 are felt, most severely, in communities of color—communities that have experienced disproportionate case counts and deaths, and where the social impact of the pandemic has been most extreme.
Yet, the disparities seen over the past year were not a result of COVID-19. Instead, the pandemic illuminated inequities that have existed for generations and revealed for all of America a known, but often unaddressed, epidemic impacting public health: racism.
What we know is this: racism is a serious public health threat that directly affects the well-being of millions of Americans. As a result, it affects the health of our entire nation. 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 worship and gather in community. These social determinants of health have life-long negative effects on the mental and physical health of individuals in communities of color.
Over generations, these structural inequities have resulted in stark racial and ethnic health disparities that are severe, far-reaching and unacceptable. As the nation’s leading public health agency, CDC has a critical role to play to address the impact of racism on public health.
We will continue to study the impact of social determinants on health outcomes, expand the body of evidence on how racism affects health, and propose and implement solutions to address this.
With COVID-19 funding, we are making new and expanded investments in racial and ethnic minority communities and other disproportionately affected communities around the country, establishing a durable infrastructure that will provide the foundation and resources to address disparities related to COVID-19 and other health conditions.
We are expanding our internal agency efforts to foster greater diversity and create an inclusive and affirming environment for all.
We are launching our new web portal “Racism and Health” as part of our ongoing commitment to serve as a catalyst for public and scientific discourse around racism and health, and to be accountable for our progress.
Confronting the impact of racism will not be easy. I know that we can meet this challenge. I know that we can create an America where all people have the opportunity to live a healthy life when we each take responsibility and work together. I am committed to this work. I certainly hope you will lean in and join me.