The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Thursday called racism a “major threat” to public health, became the latest, and largest, US-based health facility to discriminate against racism as having a “significant and negative impact on color communities” and contributing to uncommon death rates among people of color.
“Coping with the effects of apartheid will not be easy,” CDC director Dr Rochelle Walensky said in a statement published on the organisation’s website. “I know we can do this if we work together. I hope you rely on me and join me. ”
In its declaration, the CDC noted that the Covid-19 epidemic had an unequal impact on ethnic groups. The public health agency added that minority groups “face higher rates of illness and death in a variety of health conditions, including diabetes, high blood pressure, obesity, asthma and heart disease compared to their white counterparts.”
Walesnsky said in an effort to address racism, the CDC will continue to study the impact of social structures on health outcomes, increase investment in racial minorities and launch a web site, “Race and Health,” aimed at initiating a public debate on the topic.
Some public health agencies and medical organizations have criticized discrimination in recent months. More than 150 municipalities and public and local health facilities across the U.S., as well as the American Medical Association and the American Public Health Association, have made links between discrimination and public health problems.
Congress members also called for racism to be accepted as a public health problem.
Anti-Racism in Public Health Act – re-introduced in February and co-sponsored by Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif. and Rep. Ayanna Pressley, D-Mass. – seeks to address the health impact of racist society by establishing two anti-apartheid programs within the CDC, including the Center on Anti-Racism in Health and the Law Enforcing Violence Protection Program.
Public health officials have commended the CDC for its announcement.
“It’s been a long time coming,” said Drs. Camara Phyllis Jones, family physician and pathologist, and former president of the American Public Health Association.
“I think this is very good because racism is recognized and classified as a threat to the nation’s well-being,” he said. “Identifying discrimination as dangerous as the CDC has done is timely and is a bold and necessary and important step.”
Jones worked for the CDC from 2000 to 2014 and, while there, made it a priority to raise awareness of the negative impact of apartheid on public health.
He noted that racism had played a significant role in public health within the US for decades, citing both the epidemic and the contamination of drinking water in Flint, Michigan, as examples.
“Discrimination applies not only to Covid-19 but also to infant mortality, maternal mortality, obesity,” Jones said.
According to a 2019 CDC report, the infant mortality rate among African American Americans is twice as high as that of non-Spanish whites, and newborns of African American Americans are almost four times more likely to die from complications from birth defects.
Another CDC report published in 2019 noted that black women, Native Americans, and Alaskan Indigenous people are two or three times more likely to die from pregnancy-related causes than white women.
“What is happening now is that we are finally having a political backbone in creating racism as a problem,” Jones said. “If you do not name the problem, you will never be able to solve that problem.”
Carlton Duncan, former deputy chief executive officer of the CDC, agreed.
“It’s timely, especially about the national epidemic and epidemics, and the skepticism surrounding the vaccine in some communities, because of the history of the CDC and the Tuskegee,” said Duncan, referring to a study of African men’s syphilis from 1932 to 1972 by the US Public Health Service. The CDC has dismissed it as disrespectful. The study has been cited as a contribution to making the majority of African Americans more aware of the Covid-19 vaccine.
“I hope the public will be able to wrap their arms around the CDC which cites racism as a public health hazard and that this proclamation will help heal some of the injuries, some wounds,” Duncan said.
“This is a big step forward,” he added. “The consequences of this decision are far-reaching and far-reaching, especially in view of the racism and divisiveness of modern America.”