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The Health Toll of Racism

  • June 2, 2020
  • Americares Blog, Health Equity, Health Services, Strengthening Health Care
Christine Squires

Christine Squires

Christine Squires, Americares President and CEO, leads a health-focused relief and development organization that saves lives and improves health for people affected by poverty or disaster.

It’s unrelenting: The deaths of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor are unjust and horrifying. And these are only three of the names in this year’s most prominent headlines.

People of color in the United States have endured centuries of racial discrimination and unjust laws and policies at every level of society. The violence is real. But so is the social inequity that limits educational and economic opportunities, perpetuates a cycle of poverty and often makes a healthy life unattainable. When you can punch in a zip code and find the life expectancy for residents of a low-income neighborhood is 20 or 30 years less than a section of the same city just a mile away, the problem is systemic.

The disparities are well documented. Chronic disease, including heart disease and diabetes, disproportionately affects African Americans. Black adults are 60 percent more likely to be diagnosed with diabetes and twice as likely to die of diabetes, compared with white Americans. And now, add COVID-19, which takes advantage of these and other pre-existing conditions to deliver a fatal blow. Lack of access to testing and proper treatment also contribute to a disproportionate death toll among our nation’s black population. The latest overall COVID-19 mortality rate for black Americans is 2.4 times as high as the rate for whites and 2.2 times as high as the rate for Asians and Latinos.

As the leader of an organization that believes good health is the key to all human development, overcoming barriers to care is at the core of our mission. The social justice issues at the heart of this weekend’s protests are close to our hearts and – I would say, at the heart of our work.

Americares programs increase access to quality health care for low-income communities, including communities of color and others around the world who are discriminated against because of race, religion, ethnicity, gender and sexual orientation.

Our health programs provide access to health care for the traditional Wayu people, discriminated against in their native Venezuela as well as Colombia, and Rohingya, driven from Myanmar and living without status in neighboring Bangladesh. In the United States, our aid supports the nation’s safety net clinics that serve the country’s low-income uninsured, disproportionately people of color. Our programs aim to expand access to care and build capacity and knowledge, at the local and national level.

We believe everyone deserves quality health care. Everyone deserves the chance to be healthy. Americares stands in solidarity with the black community and denounces all forms of racism and injustice.