Black Health Inequity: A Cry for Equity and Justice for All
Published on Nov 17, 2023. Updated on Nov 16, 2023.
In a guest blog post, Dr. Itunu Johnson-Sogbetun addresses the everyday reality of health inequity for Black communities worldwide, as well as her pioneering work in creating HEAL, Health Equity and Advocacy Learning courses, developed to confront health disparities head-on and guide us to equitable access to healthcare for all.
In a world where medical advancements continue to astound us, breakthroughs in healthcare are celebrated, and our collective knowledge about the human body grows exponentially, it's a profound tragedy that one of the urgent health issues of our time is the glaring inequity faced by Black individuals worldwide. This issue transcends borders, races, and backgrounds; it is a call to action that every one of us must heed. Black health inequity, as evidenced by startling statistics on life expectancy and maternal and infant mortality, is a stain on humanity's conscience and demands our unwavering attention.
Statistics reveal a stark reality: Black individuals around the world have shorter life expectancies compared to other ethnic groups. These disparities are not just due to genetics but are, in fact, a direct consequence of the complex interplay of the social determinants of health, systemic racism, and historical injustices. It's a devastating truth that must not be ignored any longer.
Let me share a couple of personal stories that illustrate the heart-wrenching experiences faced by countless Black individuals and families. At the tender age of 27, I was diagnosed with severe hypertension – an exceedingly rare condition for someone so young. As a physician with direct access to healthcare, I was fortunate to be diagnosed. My grandmother and aunt were not as fortunate, developing breast cancer in their early 50s. We owe my mother's diagnosis to an article in Time magazine that raised awareness about early detection. Both of these experiences serve as an important but painful reminder that access to education and healthcare literacy are often determining factors in our ability to advocate for our health.
Let's discuss the various issues Black individuals face that help to perpetuate health inequities.
One of the most critical factors in addressing Black health equity is a distrust of doctors and the medical community based on the long and horrific legacy of unethical medical experimentation. That legacy has left enduring scars and a well-founded belief that Black health and well-being won't be prioritized. Consequently, many Black individuals don't seek timely care and preventative measures, resulting in delays in care that can be fatal.
Black individuals regularly experience symptoms of chronic stress stemming from systemic racism, discrimination, and the constant fear of violence. This unrelenting stress has severe consequences for both mental and physical health, elevating the risk of conditions like hypertension and heart disease.
The scars of historical injustices, from slavery to segregation, continue to reverberate through generations. This trauma can manifest as mental health issues, substance abuse and even contributes to various chronic conditions and illnesses.
Economic disparities, lack of access to quality education, and limited job opportunities are just some of the circumstances that perpetuate the cycle of poverty in Black communities. This, in turn, limits access to healthcare, nutritious food, and safe living environments.
The urgency of addressing inequity cannot be overstated. We must dismantle the systemic racism that has plagued healthcare, from unequal access to treatment to racial bias in medical decision-making. As clinicians, we must advocate for training and policies that address these disparities head-on, ensuring equitable access to healthcare and opportunities for everyone.
However, this is a revolution that must be led by the Black community itself, supported by allies. That's why education is the key, and we've taken action to address this critical issue. My colleagues and I developed HEAL (Health Equity and Advocacy Learning courses) to shed light on health inequity. HEAL aims to educate Black individuals and the public about the root causes of health disparities, their impact on Black communities, and strategies necessary to create change. By educating ourselves and others, we can become powerful advocates for equity in healthcare.
Black health inequity is not just a health crisis. Preventable illnesses tear families apart, and generations continue to suffer the consequences of historical injustice. We must unite not just as a community but as a global society to eradicate this pressing issue.
The time for action is now. Let's unite our collective imagination and empathy to break down the barriers of inequality to create a healthier, more just world for everyone, regardless of ethnicity. Together, through education and advocacy, we can heal the wounds of inequity and build a brighter, healthier future for all.
About the AuthorDr Itunu Johnson-Sogbetun is a UK-based portfolio General Practitioner (Consultant in Family Medicine) with over a decade of clinical experience. Dr Johnson-Sogbetun strongly believes in the bio-psycho-social interaction that underpins health and well-being, and utilizing this approach, she empowers her patients to live their healthiest lives physically and mentally.
References & Resources
www.stlouisfed.org. (n.d.). The Evolution of the Racial Gap in US Life Expectancy. [online]
Mohdin, A. (2021). Black women in UK four times more likely to die in pregnancy and childbirth. [online] The Guardian.
Williams, D.R. (2018). Stress and the Mental Health of Populations of Color: Advancing Our Understanding of Race-related Stressors. Journal of Health and Social Behavior, [online] 59(4), pp.466–485. doi:https://doi.org/10.1177/0022146518814251.
Hostetter, M. and Klein, S. (2021). Understanding and ameliorating medical mistrust among black americans. [online] The Commonwealth Fund.
Asare, J.G. (n.d.). 3 Ways Intergenerational Trauma Still Impacts the Black Community Today. [online] Forbes.
Gillespie, Claire. What Is Generational Trauma? [online] Health.com.