We are experiencing a health crisis like none we have faced in our lifetimes. A global pandemic has taken the world by surprise. And, in the U.S., statistics show that the pandemic has hit the African American, Latino, and other ethnic minority communities even harder. Racial, gender and ethnic disparities have created a massive gap in health care access, and health care educational opportunities available to these groups.
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), “Long-standing systemic health and social inequities have put many people from racial and ethnic minority groups at increased risk of getting sick and dying from COVID-19. The term racial and ethnic minority groups include people of color with a wide variety of backgrounds and experiences. Certain experiences are common to many individuals within these groups, such as social determinants of health (SDOH), which have historically prevented them from having fair opportunities for economic, physical, and emotional health.”
Social Determinants Of Health
What are these social determinants of health?, you may ask. Let’s start with the basics. Well, these are other variables that are not directly a health factor like your blood pressure or heart rate – but these “non-health” variables affect your health nonetheless. Some examples of social determinants of health include access to healthy food, safe living environment, and quality education. Lack of access to such amenities can impact your health negatively, even though these are not typically considered primary health factors that can be measured directly in your doctor’s office.
Poverty has been commonly found though not always, to be at the root of many of the inequities and inequalities. Poverty often prevents people from having access to good and healthy foods because they are often absent in these communities; and when they are present, it is often unaffordable. As a result, long-term access to less healthy foods can result in childhood obesity which can contribute to later diabetes, high blood pressure, or other medical conditions. Poverty can also force people to live in substandard housing and dangerous neighborhoods, which can lead to anxiety about safety and threat to life, and such chronic stress can affect blood pressure and mental health negatively. When pandemics such as COVID-19 break out, the spread of disease is often worse due to the substandard and/or crowded living situations. SDOH are major reasons why COVID-19 has struck minority groups much more viciously. Living in substandard conditions leads to crowding and affects the ability to social distance, while underlying health conditions have also made minority groups more susceptible to getting the virus and dying from it.
Education is another important SDOH. Many times, the educational opportunities are also substandard in these areas, thus children and young adults, despite whatever potential they may have, are most often fated to the same challenges and lack of opportunities as their older counterparts in the community. Thus it becomes a perpetuating cycle.
If Things Don’t Change, The Future Is (Unfortunately) Too Easy To See
When you think about living in a world in which food, housing, and education are substandard or lacking, you can project the future for many of the children who are born into these circumstances. Childcare and advocacy are great passions of mine, and to see the challenges of so many children who are born into these daunting environments, unlike their childhood peers born into greater privilege, makes it easy to see the often predictable patterns, and challenges they will face as they grow.
Speaking from experience as an individual and as a surgeon, I am, what many in society would not have expected to make it in the competitive field of surgery. First of all, I am a woman. Secondly, I am a woman of color. Thirdly, I am a woman of color who is an immigrant from Nigeria in West Africa. I had the three labels you wouldn’t choose if given the choice – Black. Female. Immigrant. Fortunately, I have a family who encouraged and supported my dreams from the very beginning and have continuously championed and challenged me throughout my life. I moved to the United States – a completely foreign land, having no connections – to pursue my dream of becoming a doctor. I had to work extremely hard to get a fraction of the opportunities that others had. It didn’t come easily. Along the way, I faced many gender, racial, and ethnic biases. Mentors were extremely few, and the challenges were exceedingly great. With tremendous perseverance, persistence, and the support of God and family, I made through. This is one of the many reasons that drive me to mentor kids and young adults who may be on a similar journey or those who see the decks stacked greatly against them and feel that success is not possible.
Current Times Call For Conscious Equity And Equality For All
We should all answer the call to bring these inequities and inequalities to the forefront of our collective consciousness. Equity is the quality of being impartial and fair. It means that everyone has access to what they need to each have a fair chance such as access to healthy food, clean living quarters, and quality education, just for starters. Equality means that everyone is being treated the same with respect, dignity, and consideration regardless of their gender, race, sexual preference, ethnicity, or religious belief.
Many people around the world have been affected by COVID-19 regardless of race, gender, or ethnicity. Here in the United States, the COVID-19 pandemic has wreaked havoc on the health of millions, and also unleashed the frustration and anger that has been brewing just below the surface as a result of inequities and discrimination. During these times, we have seen how discrimination permeates the culture. Many have noted that it is systemic and so woven into the fabric of life here in America and around the world, that it is easy to become blind to it. These unkind beliefs must be seen and addressed in order for change to occur.
During these challenging times, it is great to see that people from different backgrounds, gender, race, and ethnicity are rising up to take a stand for justice, equity, and equality. We can all play a part. I am working diligently in my profession as a plastic surgeon to mentor and sponsor others across all gender, racial, and ethnic backgrounds. I am also committed to advancing children’s care through advocacy and education for their healthcare needs..
Every person is a living, breathing expression of life and deserves to be treated equitably and equally. Let’s use this time to sincerely consider how we can individually and collectively move forward with respect for all. As Mahatma Ghandi said, “A nation’s greatness is measured by how it treats its weakest members.” I think the same can be applied to individuals as well.
If you would like to know more, if you would like me to speak to your organization via Zoom, please do not hesitate to reach out to me.