Rochelle Walensky the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Thursday called racism a “serious threat” to public health that has contributed to disproportionate death rates among people of color.
“What we know is this: racism is a serious public health threat that directly affects the well-being of millions of Americans,” Walensky said in a CDC statement released Thursday.
The statement from the the nation’s top health agency signals an increasing focus on addressing longstanding issues of racism that have emerged in stark relief during the coronavirus pandemic which has hit communities of color particularly hard with disproportionately high death rates, case numbers and social consequences.
“The pandemic illuminated inequities that have existed for generations and revealed for all of America a known, but often unaddressed, epidemic impacting public health: racism,” Walenksy said.
The CDC chief pointed at structural barriers that “impact racial and ethnic groups differently to influence where a person lives, where they work, where their children play, and where they worship and gather in community.”
“These social determinants of health have life-long negative effects on the mental and physical health of individuals in communities of color,” Walenksy said.
Walenksy said her agency will tackle disparity through series of steps that includes studying the impact of race and using COVID-19 funding to invest in communities of color and other disproportionately impacted groups. The CDC is also launching a web portal to stimulate public and scientific discourse around racism and health.
The CDC director’s comments singling out racism as a public health threat come as other public health agencies and medical organizations have highlighted the role that racism plays in public health recent months.
The American Medical Association, which identified racism a public health threat in November, praised the CDC’s announcement in a statement from its president, Susan Bailey on Thursday.
“As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to disproportionately plague Black and Brown communities, it’s clear that collective action from all stakeholders is needed to dismantle systemic racism and confront, embed, and advance equity across our health care system,” Bailey said.