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COVID-19 highlights racial health disparities in America

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COVID-19 has highlighted a number of our societal flaws. Among them: the outbreak has hit the African American community disproportionately hard, highlighting health care inequities that are part of our current system. Dr. Iahn Gonsenhauser and Dr. Darrell Gray from The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center discuss why this has happened and how it can be addressed.

Iahn Gonsenhauser

I'm Iahn Gonsenhauser, Chief Quality and Patient Safety Officer at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center. Today I'm joined by my friend and colleague, Dr. Darrell Gray, chair of our Health Equity Steering Committee.

Over the past six months, there's mounting data how the black community and minority communities at large have borne the brunt of coronavirus and have suffered disproportionately negative outcomes. Dr. Gray?

Darrell Gray

We know that as we examine the data, and have seen that people of color, African Americans in particular, who have been disproportionately impacted by COVID-19, whether we look at cases, hospitalizations or death.

It's largely a symptom of the underlying issues. And some of the data has attributed this to chronic conditions that predispose people of color to poor outcomes. Things like cancer, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, stroke, prevalence in the communities.

But we have to look a little bit higher. And we look at things such as what are called the social determinants of health. The conditions in which people work, live, play, pray, and the larger social structures that shape those things.

So we think about food insecurity. We think about unsafe and overcrowded housing. We think about exposure to toxins. Those things that can lead to those chronic conditions that again subsequently lead to poor outcomes from COVID-19. But we have to take a step back even further and look at things like poverty, discrimination and even racism.

Now as you know racism is a public health crisis. This was something that's been declared by Franklin County Public Health, the city of Columbus, our president of The Ohio State University as well as our chancellor.

And so if we are to address COVID-19 and the disparities therein, we certainly have to address the underlying discrimination and racism therein.

The good news is that there are things that are happening right here in Columbus. Right here at The Ohio State University, to make progress in this way.

Certainly, we've had some successes with the work of the Health Equity Steering Committee, partnering with our Department of Family Medicine and other community-based organizations, to distribute community-care kits.

A couple of weeks ago, we distributed over 11,000 kits, 46,000 masks, because we know that people need assistance to get back on their feet and back into the workplace.

Why is that important? We know that disproportionately most of the essential workers who are going into the workforce or stepping back into the workforce, are those of people of color.

And so we want to provide assistance to those communities. But we also have to do even better. To addressing those issues of food insecurity, of unsafe and overcrowded housing. And I'm excited that The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center is part of the solution in addressing the underlying social determinants of health.