PHOTO CAPTION: St. Paul, Minnesota September 20, 2015. Around 100 protesters blocked the light rail line in St. Paul to protest the treatment of Marcus Abrams by St. Paul police. Abrams, who was 17 at the time and has Autism, was violently arrested by Metro Transit Police on August 31, 2015. During his arrest he suffered a split lip and multiple seizures. 2015-09-20 This is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution License. Courtesy: Fibonacci Blue.
The American Medical Association (AMA) now recognizes racism as a public health threat and will commit “to actively work on dismantling racist policies and practices across all of health care,” the organization says in a Monday press release.
The policy update follows a June declaration by the AMA acknowledging the health consequences of police brutality. In that statement, it pledges to confront systemic racism.
“The AMA recognizes that racism negatively impacts and exacerbates health inequities among historically marginalized communities. Without systemic and structural-level change, health inequities will continue to exist, and the overall health of the nation will suffer,” AMA Board Member Willarda V. Edwards, M.D., M.B.A., says in a statement.
RELATED: Here’s how racism damages health
“As physicians and leaders in medicine, we are committed to optimal health for all and are working to ensure all people and communities reach their full health potential. Declaring racism as an urgent public health threat is a step in the right direction toward advancing equity in medicine and public health while creating pathways for truth, healing, and reconciliation.”
It isn’t the first AMA policy to call for an end to health disparities, but it is the first to acknowledge the role systemic racism plays in creating health inequities.
The American Medical Association was incorporated in 1897 and is the largest physician and medical student association in the United States, partnering with more than 190 organizations nationwide.
FIGHTING FOR BETTER HEALTH CARE
Several groups have been pushing for equity in health care for years.
In 2002, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine published the Unequal Treatment report, which found that ethnic and racial minorities in the U.S. were less likely to receive preventative treatments and received lower-quality care than white patients.
Then, in 2014, medical students in the U.S. joined together to establish Whitecoats 4 Black Lives, a student-led organization that “safeguards the lives and well-being” of patients by combatting racism. The group was born out of the December 2014 Black Lives Matter protests that took place across the country.
RELATED: Understanding systemic racism
And in Canada, the San’yas Indigenous Cultural Safety Program was established in 2008 to “increase Aboriginal-specific knowledge, enhance individual self-awareness and strengthen skills for any professional working directly or indirectly with Indigenous people.”
Cheryl Ward, then-interim director for Indigenous health in B.C.’s Provincial Health Services Authority, told the CBC in 2008 the program aims to “make people aware:”
“No health-care worker got up in the morning and says, ‘Gee, I think I’ll discriminate against an Indigenous family today’,” Ward said.
“That never happens. We have to understand the context for this.”
RACISM AND HEALTH
If anything, 2020 has cast a glaring spotlight on health inequalities.
As early as April, it became clear more Black Americans were dying of COVID-19, even in predominantly white areas.
In May, the Navajo Nation, which covers parts of Arizona, New Mexico, and Utah, had surpassed New York and New Jersey for the highest per-capita COVID-19 cases in the U.S.
COVID-19 has also put trans and non-binary individuals at risk. Social isolation, the postponement of gender-affirming interventions due to the pandemic, and a higher risk of unemployment for trans and sexual minority individuals can take a mental and physical toll.
Several studies have linked racism and discrimination to negative health outcomes, including chronic inflammation and hypertension. Being a victim of discrimination is also psychologically damaging, which can lead to depression and negatively impact sleep.
Black women are more likely to suffer from pregnancy complications as well.
According to The National Partnership for Women and Families, Black women are three times more likely to have fibroids that can lead to post-partum hemorrhaging when compared to white women.
On October 22, Dr. Chaniece Wallace, 30, died two days after giving birth to her daughter Charlotte. Dr. Wallace underwent emergency surgery due to complications associated with preeclampsia, a pregnancy complication that can lead to high blood pressure and organ damage.
The heartbreaking story underscores the significant health disparities expectant Black parents face. According to a 2017 report by the Healthcare Cost Utilization Project, Black women develop preeclampsia at a rate that is 60 per cent higher than white women — and when white women develop the condition, it tends to be less severe. Black women are also more likely to die in childbirth.
A GoFundMe has been set up to support young Charlotte and her father, Anthony Wallace.
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