If you are reading this post, you are likely dealing both as an individual, an organization, and a member of your community with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Us too!
At Health Equity Initiative, we are deeply concerned about the potential impact of this outbreak on vulnerable and marginalized populations both in the United States and globally. These communities are likely to be the most affected by the outbreak as they face many barriers to recommended COVID-19 mitigation measures.
For example, while for many it's a privilege to work from home in these trying times, many Americans are part of the gig economy and/or don't have access to paid leave, so they sadly have to choose between putting food on the table and protecting themselves. Some people may even lose their jobs as restaurants and other facilities are closing worldwide. Across the world, elderly people increasingly live in isolation and lack the kind of community and social support to shop safely for food or make sure they don't run out of life-saving medications for chronic conditions that may affect them. Homeless people and people who live in jails in the United States, or rural communities in many parts of the world may not have the resources (yes, I am talking about soap and water) for complying with something as simple as washing one's hands. Many college students may not have a "home" to go back to because of poverty, marginalization, broken homes, and other socially-determined factors. For people who live in overcrowded homes or shelters, it may not be easy to practice "social distancing." Access to affordable and quality care varies for millions of people. Many immigrants may fear seeking help because of increasing xenophobia and doubts on whether to trust there won't be any legal consequences. And finally, the millions of children who live in poverty in the United States had to wait or are still waiting for new approaches to get the meals they need being delivered outside of schools.
Yes, pandemics and disease outbreaks such as COVID-19 have a strong way of showing us all how great is the magnitude of social and racial inequities too many people experience, and ultimately their impact on people's ability to protect themselves from the threat of public health emergencies and natural disasters, and to lead healthy and productive lives. This also shows that we are all interconnected, and that being our brother's and sister's keeper is not only an important human rights issue we should all care about, but something that can positively affect everyone's health and well-being.
So, please make sure that "health equity" stays on the table during this COVID-19 response. Write op-ed, blog posts and case studies, speak to your legislators, share "COVID and health equity" information on your social media, and ask questions in your organizations, communities, and social networks to make clear that a variety of social determinants of health have an impact on people's ability to implement recommended COVID-19 mitigation measures, and that we need adequate policies to address them. Any positive change that may be implemented at this time of crisis is likely to carry over to the future and help improve community and population health outcomes for all. So, keep the noise going, please, and also come together in your neighborhoods and communities to think of solutions for improving the chance that vulnerable and marginalized groups can protect themselves!
As information overload and the rapidly changing nature of the pandemic can make it difficult to find relevant information in support of considering and addressing health equity issues during outbreak response, we compiled a list of resources in a new Covid-19 and Health Equity page on this site, which we hope will be helpful to your work.
Thank you again for being part of our community, and for all of your work in support of health equity! Stay safe and healthy, everyone!
An earlier version of this post appeared in Health Equity Initiative's March 17, 2020 Newsletter. Sign up here to receive news and resources from HEI!
About the author: Renata Schiavo, PhD, MA, CCL, is the founder and board president at Health Equity Initiative. She is a passionate advocate for health equity and a committed voice on the importance of addressing and removing barriers that prevent people from leading healthy and productive lives. She has significant experience with and has written on communicating risk and promoting disease mitigation measures in epidemics and emerging disease outbreak settings. Read her full bio.