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Disease Does Not Discriminate, But U.S. Public Health Does
By Gerri Turner

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Disease Does Not Discriminate, But U.S. Public Health Does

A nation built on the backs of slave labor and on the lands of indigenous people has made for a public health system that has been advanced at the expense of people of color.

The Roots of the Issue

Before the Civil War: Medical experiments were commonly conducted on free and enslaved black bodies (dead or alive) without consent.
Between 1845 and 1849: Dr. Marion J. Sims, the “father of modern gynecology,” guinea pigged three Alabama slave women to pioneer a new procedure. Each woman underwent up to 30 painful operations without anesthesia until Dr. Sims succeeded, after which the physician proceeded with the procedure on white women with anesthesia.
Throughout the 1800s: Scientists from both the medical community and the greater university community published scholarship supporting theories of white supremacy and scientific racism.

Generations of Deceit

The 20th century: One in three African Americans report they do not trust the U.S. public health system.

Many people of color felt like healthcare inequalities were more than neglect:

A New York Times/WCBS News poll conducted in 1990 found that 10% of Black Americans believed the AIDS virus had been created in a laboratory to infect Black people. Another 20% of Black Americans believed this could be true.

A survey conducted by the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, also in 1990, found that 370 out of 1056 black church members (35%) believed that AIDS was engineered by scientists for the extermination of black people (i.e., genocide).

Case Study:

From 1932-1972, three hundred and ninety-nine black men were deliberately denied treatment for syphilis so scientists could study the natural progression of the disease in what became infamous as The Tuskegee Syphilis Study.

In Insurance we Trust

The 21st century: Whites (i.e., the 64% majority of the U.S. population) report better healthcare than minority Blacks, Latinos, Native Americans, and Alaska Natives

Race/percentage of total population/percentage of uninsured population/disproportionately high or low uninsured rates:

White/63.7/46/low
Black/12.2/14/high
Asian, Hawaiian or Pacific Islander/4.9/6/high
Hispanic/16.4/32/high

Summary: At little more than a third of the total population of whites in America, black and Hispanic families have more total uninsured than whites.

AIDS: In 2005, Blacks were 10 times more likely than Whites and nearly three times more likely than Latinos to have AIDS.
Life Expectancy: On average, African Americans born in 2010 will live 3.8 years fewer than White, non-Hispanics.
Infant Mortality Rate: 2x higher for Blacks than for Whites, despite a slight decline for all race groupings from 1993-2003.
Health Status Reports: More Blacks, Latinos, and Native Americans/Alaska Natives reported their health status as fair or poor than did Whites and Asians in 2005.
Obesity: 7 out of 10 Blacks were either overweight or obese in 2006, making Blacks substantially more likely to be obese than all other racial groupings.
High blood pressure: 10% of black men develop high blood pressure at an earlier age and more often than white men, while 14% of black women develop high blood pressure at an earlier age and more often than white women.
Access: In 2006, almost 2.5x as many Latinos as Whites report having no doctor.
Insurance: In 2005, more than one-third of Latinos, Native Americans, and Alaska Natives reported being uninsured.
Quality: In 2005, Blacks were two to four times more likely than Whites and Latinos to be hospitalized for conditions that could have been treated with preventative care.

Deep Rooted Concern

After the Affordable Care Act, access to healthcare improved as the number of uninsured Americans dropped and has stayed below 20%: the number it had been hovering around since the year 2000.
Even with this marked improvement for Americans as a whole, disparities in access to care that were related to race, ethnicity, and income showed no significant change.

Minorities are still less insured than Whites. As of 2010, 34% of Latinos are uninsured compared with 13% of Whites. As of 2014, 33% of Latinos are uninsured compared with 11% of Whites. That’s 1% improvement over 4 years, with 2/3 more Latinos than Whites who are uninsured, rendering our numbers the same as they were in 2005 when one-third of Latinos also reported being uninsured.

With so little having changed, a refrain seems appropriate: A nation built on the backs of slave labor and on the lands of indigenous people has made for a public health system that has been (and still is) advanced at the expense of people of color.

Racism and Public Health

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