Commentary

It’s past time to make critical investments in public health for communities of color | Opinion

As we continue to recover from the pandemic, we cannot afford to leave Black and Brown people vulnerable

By Andrea Custis and Sanul Corrielus

The COVID-19 pandemic decimated our Black and Brown communities. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) determined that in relation to their White counterparts, the Black population is 1.9 times more likely to die from COVID-19. These inequities were certainly seen in Pennsylvania and Philadelphia, where our communities continue to be disproportionately affected by the virus. These findings are a call to action about the need to continue doing more to protect our communities from the next pervasive disease.

Already, the next public health crisis is upon us. For decades, obesity has been a major contributor to a vast number of preventable deaths. Obesity takes nearly 300,000 lives every year and contributes to diseases such as cancer and heart disease. Moreover, obesity increases the risk of severe illness from COVID-19. Seventy-eight percent of all COVID-19 cases where patients were hospitalized, needed a ventilator, or died from COVID-19 were in relation to obesity or obesity-related diseases. This directly impacts the Black population, who are 1.3 times more likely to have obesity in comparison to the Non-Hispanic White population.

One of the reasons why people of color have faced the worst of the pandemic is the long-standing implicit bias and racial disparities that exist in our nation’s health care system. Due to discriminatory policies like redlining and residential segregation, communities of color have long been forced to live in neighborhoods lacking resources and investment, with there being little inclination to finance assets such as hospitals. As a result, this creates a snowball effect, with communities of color never getting the necessary investments into their community healthcare systems because of where they’ve been forced to live. Consequently, 1 in 10 individuals in the Black community are uninsured. 

We need to ensure that communities of color are treated equitably in our country’s healthcare system by aiding those that live with obesity. We can do so by enacting the Treat and Reduce Obesity Act (TROA) either through reconciliation or passing it on the floor. This legislation would give people greater access to medication that allows them to manage their obesity by covering medications and treatments that otherwise would be too expensive for most patients. In addition, it would save our government $25 million over the next 10 years through preventative care, allowing us to use our taxpayer dollars towards making greater investments in public health for communities of color throughout Pennsylvania. 

As we continue to recover from the pandemic, we cannot afford to leave Black and Brown people vulnerable. Through the passage of TROA, we can make sure that we provide all communities with access to equitable healthcare options that will impact outcomes for years to come.

Andrea Custis is President and Chief Executive Officer of the Urban League of Philadelphia. 

Sanul Corrielus, MD, MBA, FACC, is a board-certified cardiologist at Corrielus Cardiology in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  He is the founder of Community Cardiovascular Initiative, a non-profit organization that focuses on providing integrated cardiovascular health and wellness education to underserved communities in Philadelphia to improve cardiovascular health disparities and the quality of health delivery. 

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