Thursday, May 14, 2020

As Pandemic Highlights Health Disparities, Opportunities to Create Change Emerge

While available data on racial disparities in COVID-19 incidence and mortality are limited, preliminary evidence suggests that minority communities in the United States are disproportionately affected by the virus. The scientific, public health, and clinical communities must work to address these inequities, an effort that may lay the groundwork to reduce health disparities overall, wrote three officials with the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities (NIMHD) in an article published in JAMA.

“The pandemic presents a window of opportunity for achieving greater equity in the health care of all vulnerable populations,” wrote Monica Webb Hooper, Ph.D., Anna María Nápoles, Ph.D., M.P.H., and Eliseo J. Pérez-Stable, M.D.

Rigorous research must be conducted to identify the roots of inequities that might predispose individuals to more severe reactions to COVID-19, as well as community, policy, health care system, and society-level determinants.

As the pandemic progresses and more data emerge, the authors said there will likely be evidence of health disparities due to a number of factors, such as lack of health insurance, poorer quality care, inequitable distribution of testing and hospital resources, food and housing insecurity, and work-related exposures.

“There is an obligation to address these predictable consequences with evidence-based interventions,” the authors wrote. “Public policies have the power to enhance health and also exacerbate health disparities.”

More studies are needed to investigate the following areas:

  • The influence of state and local mitigation policies on differences in health services utilization and health outcomes.
  • The role of community-level protective factors and interventions in mitigating the outbreak’s adverse consequences.
  • The influence of COVID-19–related racism and other types of discrimination.
  • The role of social determinants of health in influencing preventive health behaviors.

“These efforts will help pave the way for therapeutic and vaccine trials that must be inclusive of diverse participants at high risk,” the authors concluded. “These studies are also needed to guide the science of community-engaged intervention development, implementation, and evaluation and lay the foundation for a systemwide goal of decreasing health disparities beyond the detrimental effects of COVID-19.”

In a conversation with National Institutes of Health (NIH) Director Francis Collins, M.D., Ph.D., posted today on the NIH Director’s Blog, Pérez-Stable discussed NIMHD’s work to support research investigating the causes of health disparities and interventions that might help. “[A]s we use the power of science to understand and contain the COVID-19 pandemic, I’d like to re-emphasize the importance of considering race, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, the built environment, the social environment, and systems. Much of the time these factors may only play secondary roles, but, as in all science related to humans, I think they have to be considered. This experience should be a lesson for us to learn more about that.”

(Image: iStock/laflor)

Now in Psychiatric News

Psychiatric News continues to report news and information relevant to psychiatrists about the COVID-19 pandemic. We will highlight these articles for you as they become available online:

Black Community Especially Vulnerable to COVID-19

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