On Monday, UN independent human rights experts called on governments to commit to racial equity and equality in their response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The call-to-action comes amid reports that African Americans are significantly more likely to die from COVID-19 when compared to other races in parts of the U.S., even in areas where the population is predominantly white.

In a UN press release, The Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent identified “structural discrimination” as an element that could worsen health care inequities and could contribute to a disproportionate number of COVID-19 deaths for people of African descent.

“Despite robust responses, states have not recognized the specific health risks faced by people of African descent or how racial discrimination and implicit bias and racial stereotypes may pervade policy,” Ahmed Reid, the working group’s chair, said in a statement.

Lack of high-level support

The working group suggests part of the problem could be a lack of minority leaders in the decision-making processes and is calling for more guidance for “stressed and overwhelmed healthcare workers and local leadership” that will help them prevent racial discrimination during response efforts.

The working group also demands more protection for front-line workers, as well as people in jails and refugee camps — closed-knit quarters which are high-risk outbreak zones.

“The ongoing availability of people of African descent to serve in this crisis should not be construed as disposability,” Reid said.

“States using this pandemic to suspend or roll back human rights relating to affirmative action, the environment, public health, criminal justice, and governance, generally disproportionately impair people of African descent in ways that will persist, long after the crisis is resolved.”

Read the full press release here.