Opinion

COVID-19 exposes racial inequality in the US

By Hao Yaming, People’s Daily

On April 2, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services released COVID-19 case data of the state by races and caught the attention of the world.

African Americans in Michigan made up 12 percent of the population in the state, yet they accounted for 33 percent of the confirmed COVID-19 cases and 40 percent of the deaths, the department said.

The two figures were recently updated and stood at 32 percent and 41 percent, respectively.

Among the deaths caused by the epidemic in the US, 52.3 percent were white; 22.4 percent were African Americans; 16.6 percent were Latino Americans; and 5.8 percent were Asian Americans, according to statistics published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) of the US on May 13.

The percentage of African Americans among the COVID-19 deaths was significantly greater than that among the country’s total population, which stands at 12.5 percent, indicating that the group has been worst affected by the coronavirus outbreak.

This can also be proved by the data released by CDC on the deaths in each US state – African Americans were the most vulnerable in almost all the states.

In Kansas, only 5.7 percent of the total population were African Americans, yet the group accounted for 29.7 percent of the deaths. In Missouri, African Americans accounted for 11.6 percent of the population, but 35.1 percent of the death tolls. In Illinois, African Americans made up 14.1 percent of the population and 30.3 percent of the fatalities.

It seems that racism in the US has taken a new form as the epidemic evolves. At the earlier stage, racism was mainly manifested in the malicious remarks made by certain American politicians and mainstream media against specific races and countries. Now, it has turned into the huge racial inequality forced on some ethnic minorities in the US amid the epidemic.

As the virus does not distinguish between races, the racial differences concerning the death rate could be only attributed to the situations that different ethnic groups face.

Based on analysis, the differences in underlying diseases, medical conditions, medical insurance, living conditions, economic status, work environment, health awareness, nutritional level, lifestyles and mental stress are considered the reasons for the relatively higher death rates in the epidemic of some racial minorities in the US.

Most of the above factors have little to do with biological genetic characteristics, but are connected with socioeconomic circumstances. When all of them are causing adverse effects on specific ethnic groups, they create racial inequality.

“Decades of structural racism have prevented so many Black and Brown families from accessing quality health care, affordable housing, and financial security, and the coronavirus crisis is blowing these disparities wide open,” US Senator Elizabeth Warren said in a statement.

Data shows that African Americans are more than twice as likely to lack medical insurance as the white people. Latino Americans are basically in the same condition in the country.

Without medical insurance, these people are usually forced to give up medical services by high medical expense, which means that they may not receive timely testing and treatment amid the pandemic.

Besides, most medical institutions in African or Latino communities can only provide low-quality and limited types of medical services, which often prevents the residents from obtaining timely and effective medical treatment, resulting in a high incidence of chronic diseases over time.

Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases of the US, admitted that the epidemic has exposed the long-standing health and medical gaps among the citizens from different ethnic groups in the US.

As a basic human right, the right to health not only specifies the right to access medical and health care services, but also implies the intrinsic principle of equal protection.

In a sense, the high mortality rate of African and Latino Americans during the pneumonia outbreak results from the long-term failure of the US to equally protect the right to health of ethnic minorities.

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