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In Case You Missed It – Inequities Exist in Breast Cancer & COVID-19

There’s been a lot of news lately. So much news that if you haven’t been following every headline, every day of the week, you might have missed something. 

But that’s why I’m here. As the Manager of Program Evaluation for Susan G. Komen’s African American Health Equity Initiative, I’ve been keeping up with headlines about COVID-19 and health equity.

Here’s some important news that you might have missed:

African Americans are disproportionately affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. We know the inequities present in the pandemic are also present in breast cancer, which makes this unacceptable fact of particular importance to Komen.

A recent CNN article reported that, while Black Americans make up only 13.4 percent of the U.S. population, counties with higher black populations account for more than 60 percent of COVID-19 deaths.

This statistic would make sense if the same were true for counties with higher white populations. But it is not, and it further underscores the inequities we see in the healthcare system that have been exacerbated due to the pandemic

Wisconsin, South Carolina, Missouri, Michigan, Kansas and Washington, D.C. are just are a few of the states and/or areas in the U.S. where African Americans are dying at higher rates from COVID-19.

So, what is happening in these areas that is causing the disparity?

One major driver is what’s called “social determinants of health.”

This is a complex issue, but it includes racism and discrimination, health care access and quality, food security, economic security, transportation and many more. All of these things affect where African Americans live, work, eat, play and pray.

It is imperative that we pay attention to these social determinants of health and always seek to advance equity in all areas of health.

Now, you may be asking, “How do we know all of this is true?” We can track it through publicly available data. Most states have caught up and are now tracking race demographic data in relation to COVID-19 cases. This data will be a tremendous help to epidemiologists in our collective fight to flatten the curve and get the world back to interacting.

On the global scale, a recent BBC article looked at the controversy surrounding whether or not Africans should participate in vaccine trials.

Some scientists are noting that diversity in clinical or vaccine trials should be improved, and Africans’ participation would bring that needed diversity.

Global activists caution against this, however, noting that Africans should not be treated as “guinea pigs.”

This issue, too, is quite complex.

We know that vaccines should be tested in all populations just as any therapy, to ensure their efficacy across populations. But we can’t ignore the global historical medical injustices that have been committed on Black bodies.

Past injustices have built a culture of mistrust of the medical and scientific systems around the world, so any vaccine trials that take place should be equitable, safe and protect the rights of its participants.

Now, until the curve is officially flattened, and there is a viable vaccine on the market, I encourage you to:

  • Stay Safe 
  • Stay Healthy 
  • Wash Your Hands 
  • Wear a Mask and make sure it FULLY covers BOTH your nose and mouth  
  • Stay Home if You Can