Systematic racism in Black and Brown communities is unfortunately nothing new. And, in the wake of Black empowerment movements earlier this year, creating more equitable opportunities for Black and Brown people has become a much-needed focal point as of late.
This topic and more were touched on during a Nov. 10 American Heart Association [AHA] one-hour online news conference, “Call to Action: Structural Racism as a Fundamental Driver of Health Disparities: A Presidential Advisory from the American Heart Association.”
Nancy Brown, AHA CEO, said that structural racism is a system of laws, policies and societal practices that “perpetuate inequity” among races, resulting in “devastating and deadly” health impacts in Black and Brown communities.
“[This is] including higher rates of heart disease including stroke, obesity and high blood pressure,” Brown said, adding that the AHA has published scientific statements addressing cardiovascular risks and disparities among racial and ethnics groups in the United States previously. But more can be done.
“We believe these statements have not adequately addressed structural racism as a fundamental cause for poor health and disparities in cardiovascular disease,” Brown said during the event. “Today, that and more will change.”
Brown added that as champions for health and equity, by 2024, AHA will advance cardiovascular health for all, “including identifying and removing barriers to health care access and quality.”
Mitchell Elkind, AHA president said that the Association, founded in 1924 in Chicago, is celebrating its nearly 100-year-old history as a recognized world leader in supporting life-saving scientific research in its fight against heart disease and stroke.
In AHA’s fight against these diseases, their work has helped, with these overall death rates declining “significantly over the past two decades.”
“But those rates have recently plateaued in part because these gains were not equitably shared among all the people in all the communities,” Elkind said, adding that societal barriers created by structural racism contribute markedly to cardiovascular risk factors within certain communities.
Risk factors like high blood pressure, obesity and Type 2 diabetes [long plaguing the Black community] are significantly higher in the Black, Asian, American Indian, Alaskan, Native and Latinx people compared with white people in the U.S., Elkind added.
“Black Americans continue to experience the highest death rates due to heart disease and particularly stroke — nearly 30 percent higher death from cardiovascular disease and 45 percent higher death rate from stroke,” Elkind said, adding that death before hospital discharge also increases in Black and Brown communities.
Also, since the 2010 Affordable Care Act, Black and Brown people are still more likely to be uninsured with rates between 12 percent and 22 percent, respectively, of those uninsured than their white and Asian counterparts, who are uninsured at a rate of 7 percent to 8 percent.
“A lot of things changed in the last 100 years since the American Heart Association first set out to save lives from heart disease and stroke,” Elkind said, adding that the need to position the organization as an advocate of overall health for everyone is more important now than ever.
“This goal continues to get stronger on a daily basis but today we go beyond words and accelerate social equity,” Elkind said. “Everyone must have the same opportunity for a full, healthy life.”
Bertram Scott, AHA chairman, said that the Association, staff members, volunteers and supporters are well poised to take on the challenge.
“Many of our current initiatives are addressing health initiatives by supporting the advancement of underrepresented people in their communities in the realm of scientific research,” Scott said.
“We’re training social entrepreneurs and providing college scholarships for students interested in science and medicine,” Scott said, adding that the AHA’s early career science and research mentorship programs for historically Black colleges and universities are helping grow a diverse science workforce in a “new generation of leaders.”
The AHA has strategies to address structural racism to include:
● Quality improvement program
● Human Resources/business operations
“That compels us to address structural racism in a meaningful, bold, comprehensive, thoughtful fashion,” Scott said.
Dr. Regina Benjamin, 18th Surgeon General, AHA board member and leading public health champion, said that our society must begin to remove the barriers of systemic racism.
“[This means] giving everyone, everywhere, regardless of color or creed the same opportunities to live a long and healthy life,” Benjamin said. “But no one organization or agency can do it alone. This advisory points out how important it is to have allies.”
Benjamin went on to say that allyship is important to make the start to address structural racism and allyship is when those in a position of power and privilege work “hand in hand” with the groups being held back.
“Everyone, every person, every organization can play a role … because it’s impacting our entire society,” she said, adding that it is also changing individual attitude as it comes to making a difference. “We need allies … the board of directors for the American Heart Association invites other like-minded organizations to join us in this important journey.”
For more information on AHA’s journey toward health equity visit them online: https://www.heart.org/en/health-equity-headlines/category-health-equity.