Intersections of health and social disparities: Viral hepatitis, COVID-19, and police violence
Andrew Reynolds @AndrewKnowsHepC

Journalism can be an important tool for activism and social change, and our commitment to you is to make sure we fulfill that promise.

Racism and inequality kill. This is an unimpeachable fact that has been highlighted all the more in 2020, first with the COVID-19 outbreak, and then with the renewed attention of police violence and the killings of Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade, George Floyd, and many others. We can also include viral hepatitis into this mix, with health disparities and suffering disproportionately affecting African Americans. This intersection of racism and White supremacy with health disparities has always been an important issue to fight—and indeed there are many individuals and organizations that have been fighting these problems for decades—but they are all the more important now as we are in the midst of this COVID-19 pandemic.

A brief snapshot of health disparities below gives us a sense of the urgency of the problem:

COVID-19

COVID-19 infections and deaths demonstrate yet again the sharp divide and health disparities we have here in the United States. African Americans make up about 13% of the U.S. population, but they make represent 25% of COVID-19 deaths. The death rate for COVID-19 in African Americans is over twice that of White people: 50.3 per 100,000 compared to 20.7 per 100,000.

Viral hepatitis

While COVID-19 is a new example that demonstrates health disparities, viral hepatitis is not. Hepatitis C and B are another in a long line of diseases and medical conditions that disproportionately impact African Americans. Once again, with 13% of the U.S. population, African Americans make up 25% of people living with HCV. African Americans have higher rates of infection, with liver disease ranked as a leading cause of death. Despite having effective cures for HCV, access to them remains elusive. A recent study found that African Americans are more likely to be considered ineligible for HCV treatment than any other racial group, even when controlling for other factors. Racism in healthcare kills, too.

The War on Drugs and Prisons

You cannot separate these high rates of infection and suffering without addressing policing and the war on drugs. The criminalization of drug use has resulted in the U.S. having the largest prison population in the world, as well as creating a situation where harm reduction tools—such as sterile syringes—are challenging for most people who inject drugs. Like health disparities, the war on drugs disproportionately impacts African Americans. We arrest and imprison African Americans at five times the rate of White people. Although African Americans and White people use drugs at approximately the same rates, African Americans are six times more likely to go to prison for drug charges than their White counterparts.

Racism and White supremacy, and the resulting suffering of African Americans, is as old as the founding of this nation. It is deeply rooted in American culture, and as such it will be difficult to change, and will require time to achieve. But it must change, and we can be the agents of this change. There is much to do.

POSITIVELY AWARE is committed to eliminating racial disparities in healthcare, and we have consistently written stories and features on key players in this fight. We will continue the fight, publishing articles on important topics and providing health education and pushing for health equity. Most recently, TPAN, the publisher of POSITIVELY AWARE, has joined hundreds of other organizations in calling for a change in policing in America, and shifting more resources to health and social services (positivelyaware.com/articles/tpan-calls-change-policing).

My commitment is to do more and try harder. I’ll continue to fight for equal access to HCV testing and treatment. I’ll continue to work to dismantle the war on drugs and the criminalization of people who use drugs. Most important, I’ll follow the lead of People of Color in the harm reduction space, health care advocacy and economic justice, be an ally and partner with them to fight for change.

What can you do? There’s a lot, and most of it is beyond the scope of what I feel like I can tell people to do. But I can tell you what you can do for us. I can say that you can hold me and POSITIVELY AWARE accountable in our work. I know we want that. Pitch us story ideas about the ways race and health intersect in HIV and HCV. Let us know about important programs in your respective communities that work to address racism in healthcare. Tell us about important leaders doing work on these issues. We can and will write stories about all of these and more. Journalism can be an important tool for activism and social change, and our commitment to you is to make sure we fulfill that promise.

I’ll close with a selection from TPAN’s statement on the most recent spate of police violence:

Throughout its more than 30-year history TPAN has long fought for people who are marginalized and oppressed. We reaffirm our commitment today by standing together with everyone who fights racism, anti-Blackness and White supremacy in all its forms, and state unequivocally that:

Black Lives Matter.