Racism is a public health threat

This week, the American Medical Association (AMA) announced that the association recognizes racism as a public health threat. The association is adopting a new policy which acknowledges systemic racism, cultural racism, and interpersonal racism as barriers to healthcare for many Americans and as threats to equitable public health across the country. Although the policy does not specifically address COVID-19, it speaks to the impact that America’s racist history and healthcare system has had in making it more likely for Black Americans to become infected with the coronavirus and suffer worse health outcomes.

“The AMA recognizes that racism negatively impacts and exacerbates health inequities among historically marginalized communities. Without systemic and structural-level change, health inequities will continue to exist, and the overall health of the nation will suffer,” said AMA Board Member Willarda V. Edwards, M.D., M.B.A.

I highlighted this decision because, in order to address a public health threat, the threat must be tracked with good, complete data. In the several months I’ve worked on the COVID Racial Data Tracker, I have seen how public health agencies often push demographic data on COVID-19 into inaccessible charts or hard-to-find reports, or do not even report these data at all. In other words, it may be difficult for many people of color in the U.S. to find crucial information on how the pandemic is impacting their communities.

Many states have greatly increased their demographic reporting on COVID-19 cases, deaths, and other metrics since the spring, and states have supported initiatives to serve minority communities. But there is still a lot of room for improvement. The AMA’s decision signals that the medical community is committed to dismantling the threat racism poses to American public health. Journalists, science communicators, and other community leaders must join in that work.

If you’d like to advocate for better demographic data in your state: you can see the disparities using the COVID Racial Data Tracker’s Infection and Mortality charts, and you can reach out to your state’s leadership with a custom contact form.

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