September 17, 2020
Dr. Jerome Adams
Former Surgeon General, United States
Over a year after its initial onset, the novel coronavirus has impacted the lives of millions of Americans. However, the pandemic hasn’t just resulted in public health and economic crises, it has also laid bare many of the underlying inequities that have too long existed in our society. According to data from the CDC, certain races and ethnicities have experienced higher rates of COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations, and deaths when compared to non-Hispanic white persons.
To shed light on this important issue, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation spoke with U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Jerome Adams about why health equity matters — especially right now. In his work with the Office of the Surgeon General, Dr. Adams oversees the operations of over 6,000 uniformed health officers stationed worldwide. He has also served as a leading voice in the healthcare community during the pandemic and is an advocate for driving health equity through social justice.
Below, Dr. Adams spoke on the importance of addressing social and health inequalities for minority groups during COVID-19.
Social Justice Cannot Exist Without Health Equity
With the coronavirus pandemic disproportionately impacting minority communities, “We’ve come face-to-face with the terrible inequities that exist in our country,” said Adams. “We’re in the midst of a major social justice movement, but I remind people that you can’t have social justice if you don’t have health equity.”
“This virus has laid bare many of the underlying inequities that have existed in our society — five times hospitalization rates for Hispanic Americans, for African Americans, for Latinx [Americans] … and our tribal brothers and sisters [when compared to non-Hispanic white Americans],” he continued.
Race and ethnicity have long been risk markers for other factors that impact health, including socioeconomic status, access to healthcare, and occupation-related exposure to the virus. Many of these communities do not have the same financial and other resources to reach their full health potential. Americans in racial and ethnic minority groups are also more likely to have occupation-related exposure to the virus — for example, working as frontline, essential and critical infrastructure workers.
So what is the solution to addressing these health inequities for minority communities? According to Dr. Adams, it begins with addressing the social issues.
“I think it’s very important that we understand, we have to address the social conditions that then lead to the medical conditions that create these terrible health inequities," he said.
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