By Sophia L. Thomas, DNP, FNP-BC, PPCNP-BC, FNAP, FAANP
February is Black History Month, a time to recognize and celebrate African American influence, achievements, and contributions to our nation. We want to showcase a leader you may have never heard of — Onesimus.
Onesimus was instrumental in sharing the principles and procedures of inoculation that helped mitigate the impact of a major smallpox outbreak in Boston in 1721. Before his enslavement in Massachusetts, the knowledge and practice he obtained in Africa provided a critical foundation for vaccines’ development. In these times especially, we owe a debt of gratitude to this great man.
Given the significant contributions of Onesimus, and so many other African Americans to our nation’s health and well-being, this month is a necessary time for reflection. Throughout the year, we can collectively work together to ensure an equitable future for black and brown communities, including ending the health disparities that disproportionately impact these communities.
Data and analysis of racial disparities in COVID-19 reveal social and structural inequities and show that people of color are:
- At increased risk for severe illness if they contract COVID-19 due to higher rates of underlying health conditions, such as diabetes, asthma, and hypertension
- More likely to be uninsured and to lack a usual source of care, which impedes accessing
COVID-19 testing and treatment services
- More likely to work in the service industries such as restaurants, retail, and hospitality that are mainly at risk for loss of income during the pandemic
- More likely to live in housing situations, such as multi-family or multi-unit dwellings that makes it difficult to social distance or self-isolate
This month, while we focus on the many contributions African Americans have made to our nation, we must double our resolve to eradicate all forms of discrimination and disparity — including those related to health care. Our country can and must look to overcome the societal inequalities that prevent African Americans from gaining access to and receiving the high-quality health care they deserve.
“Of all the forms of inequality, injustice in health care is the most shocking and inhumane.” (Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.)