National Minority Health Month Misses the Mark in 2020
National Minority Health Month got underway in the United States on April 1 with the same theme as last year: “Active & Healthy.” Focusing the month on keeping minds and bodies active while indoors may seem like a great idea in light of a pandemic keeping many homebound. However, the encore feels like a lack of effort on behalf of a population whose health disparities so badly need attention. That’s become even more evident with the disproportionate number of minorities in this country being hospitalized and dying from COVID-19.
On the losing end
Maybe I’m alone in feeling that the use of the same theme screams of apathy. However, minorities have long been on the losing end when it comes to health. In the U.S., they lag behind Caucasians in quality of care and access to care, and battle diseases more frequently and with worse outcomes, according to the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality findings.
The grim statistics also hold true for sarcoidosis; African Americans three times more likely to be diagnosed than Caucasians and with more severity. The increase in sarcoidosis death rates between 1999 and 2016 in the U.S. was highest among African Americans in the population studied by researchers. These statistics are tied to comorbidities like hypertension and diabetes that run higher in the African American population due to systemic problems like lack of access to healthcare, socioeconomic status, cultural attitudes and behaviors
For me not getting a fresh theme this year feels like one more thing we lost out on.
A missed opportunity to help
The Office of Minority Health at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has tied its social media campaign of remaining active while home in with COVID-19 to focus on ways to stop the spread. But, I wish efforts were taken further to highlight the increased danger of COVID-19 in minority communities, which are among the populations most at risk right now as NPR recently reported.
One reason is that telework is not an option for many. Less than 30 percent of workers are able to work from home and that capability is dismal among minorities, which is apparent in recent statistics published by the Economic Policy Institute. Roughly one in six Hispanic workers and less than one in five African American workers are able to work from home, said the self-described nonpartisan think tank.
Another reason is that underlying health conditions are more prevalent among minorities. There are many, but just to name a few: African Americans and Hispanics have the highest rates of asthma, and minorities are more likely to have diabetes and have higher rates of cardiovascular disease.
Having to leave the house to work during a pandemic not only puts our populations at higher risk of infection but we also are at higher risk of more severe illness from COVID-19. The virus is claiming the lives of African Americans in disproportionate numbers, a heartbreaking and disturbing problem highlighted last week by the Los Angeles Times editorial board.
We deserve more
The pandemic should serve as an eye-opening window into our nation’s health disparities, which can mean the difference between life and death. In rolling out this year’s National Minority Health Month campaign, so much more could have been done to help. A great example is the joint effort now taking place as part of Sarcoidosis Awareness Month to raise awareness about the disease and COVID-19. Instead we got the same old messaging from last year.
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