Racism as a Public Health Threat

I’m not sure what the impact will be, but I’m hopeful this recognition of racism as a public health threat by the American Medical Association might help focus attention on systemic racism in this country. Bring attention to racism as a public health matter to health professionals. Result in study, research and education.

The American Medical Association has officially defined racism as a public health threat that has created substantial health inequality.

Racism, both systemic and structural, has historically perpetuated health inequality and cut short the lives of many Black, indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) in the US and around the world.

  • The American Medical Association has officially defined racism as a public health threat.
  • “Racism negatively impacts and exacerbates health inequities among historically marginalized communities,” Willarda Edwards, an AMA board member, said in a statement Monday.
  • The AMA said it would enact new policies to address the injustice and work to support research in the area. 
  • Racism has historically perpetuated health inequality and cut short the lives of many Black, indigenous, and people of color in the US.
  • For example, Black Americans and Hispanic Americans are dying in greater numbers than any other ethnic group from COVID-19.

Dr. Jessica Shepherd, a Black OG-GYN in Dallas, told Business Insider AMA’s move is critical to address racial disparities in healthcare from the top down. 

“We fail to realize that there are so many things that occur at the systemic part of healthcare that if we don’t make changes such as the one we’re discussing now, then we’ll never really get to the heart of the problem,” Shepherd said.  

On Monday, the association said it would enact several new policies, including:

  • To “encourage governmental agencies and nongovernmental organizations to increase funding for research into the epidemiology of risks and damages related to racism and how to prevent or repair them.”
  • To “encourage the development, implementation and evaluation of undergraduate, graduate and continuing medical education programs and curricula that engender greater understanding of the causes, influences, and effects of systemic, cultural, institutional and interpersonal racism.”

The American Medical Association officially recognized racism as a public-health threat, saying it creates and entrenches health inequality by Bill Bostock and Anna Medaris Miller, Business Insider, Nov 17, 2020

Recognizing race as social construct

In an additional move to promote anti-racist practices, the AMA discussed the use of race as a proxy for ancestry, genetics and biology in medical research and health care delivery. Delegates adopted new policy to:

  • Recognize that race is a social construct and is distinct from ethnicity, genetic ancestry or biology.
  • Support ending the practice of using race as a proxy for biology or genetics in medical education, research and clinical practice.

The AMA also will encourage undergraduate medical education, graduate medical education and continuing medical education programs to recognize the harmful effects of presenting race as biology in medical education and that they work to mitigate these effects through curriculum change that:

  • Demonstrates how the category of “race” can influence health outcomes.
  • Supports race as a social construct and not a biological determinant.
  • Presents race within a socioecological model of individual, community and society to explain how racism and systemic oppression result in racial health disparities.

AMA: Racism is a threat to public health by Kevin B. O’Reilly, AMA, NOV 16, 2020

In Iowa, Des Moines Black Liberation Movement has declared a Black State of Emergency.

Luana Nelson-Brown, executive director of Iowa Coalition for Collective Change, said Blacks make up 4% of Iowa’s population, but 31% of gun violence. State money for victim services goes toward sexual assault and domestic abuse, not homicide and other violent crimes, she said. The state has a responsibility to provide resources for the families of homicide victims — especially since a third of them are Black, she said.

Other disparities plague Blacks, Nelson-Brown said, including:

  • Blacks make up 4% of Iowa’s population, but 6% of COVID-19 cases and 4% of COVID-19 deaths, according to the COVID Racial Data Tracker.
  • Black women in Iowa are more likely to have low-birth-weight babies and experience maternal mortality at 3 times the rate of whites. She also said there is a need for data disaggregated by race and for more Doulas.
  • “Black communities were disproportionately affected by the derecho storm, not only in exposure to damage but in the stark difference in relief efforts between black communities and other communities in Iowa. We want to specifically highlight the African refugee community in Cedar Rapids whose housing was completely destroyed, and who were abandoned by their state government without power, running water, food, or shelter for days on end,” she said.

Des Moines Black Lives Matter clarified why it’s now known as the Des Moines Black Liberation Movement. Matthew Bruce, an organizer with BLM, said the group wanted to make sure that “we reflected that not only are we valuing our lives, but we are dismantling the systems that keep us oppressed.”

Black Iowa in ‘State of Emergency’. Activists sound the alarm about the dire longstanding racial disparities harming Black lives by Dana Jamesitor, Black Iowa News, Oct. 14, 2020

Photo: Matthew Bruce, an organizer with the Des Moines Black Liberation Movement, speaks during a Tuesday press conference at Cheatom Park in Des Moines about the ‘state of emergency’ experienced by Black Iowans. Watch the video.

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