The COVID-19 pandemic has disproportionately impacted racial and ethnic minorities, especially here in the United States. Higher infection, hospitalization, and death rates due to COVID-19 have been observed for historically marginalized groups, and the harmful effects stem beyond those relating to health, with higher unemployment and food and housing insecurity also reported. Yet these disparities did not emerge anew from this current pandemic; rather, this pandemic has served to amplify existing structural inequalities in the healthcare, educational, legal, and housing systems, among others. In this episode of our Anatomy of a Pandemic series, we explore the deeply entrenched roots of racial disparities in the US, how our narrow focus on outcomes often fails to capture the complex causes of inequalities, and ways in which we can begin to work towards health equity in this country. We are so thrilled to be joined by Harriet Washington (@haw95) (interview recorded March 10, 2021), writer and medical ethicist, whose groundbreaking work on this subject through books such as Medical Apartheid, A Terrible Thing to Waste, Carte Blanche, and others has led to much-deserved critical acclaim.
As always, we wrap up the episode by discussing the top five things we learned from our expert. To help you get a better idea of the topics covered in this episode, we’ve listed the questions below:
Can you tell us a bit about your new book, Carte Blanche: The Erosion of Medical Consent, and what inspired you to write it?
Although health disparities have been around forever, it was only within the last few decades that the term itself was coined, and it’s often only vaguely defined. Would you mind describing what we mean when we talk about health disparities?
Can you talk a bit about how it’s not just being able to go to a doctor or afford a doctor, but how things like access to education, chronic stress, and environmental justice interact with and compound each other when it comes to health disparities?
What are some of the different ways that we measure health disparities?
Can you talk about why it is important to understand the context of these disparate outcomes?
Can you talk about the disproportionate impact that COVID-19 has had on communities that were already facing significant barriers to healthcare?
How has the narrative of ‘race-based medicine’ shown up in discussions of the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on certain groups of people?
How can we increase health equity in this country? What can we do at an individual level to help, and what are some policies at the state or national level that could help narrow this gap?
How can the medical establishment work to earn back the trust of these communities that we have historically disenfranchised (and in many ways continue to disenfranchise) when it comes to health?
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