Panelists Discuss Potential Solutions to Health Disparities on Marginalized Communities

On Tuesday, December 8th, NYU Wagner and The Century Foundation presented Health Disparities in America: What’s the Cure?, a discussion about policy ideas that aim to eliminate health disparities within vulnerable communities. The panel included Dr. Amitabh Chandra of the Harvard Kennedy School and Dr. Abdul El-Sayed, a physician, epidemiologist, and activist. Dr. Jamila Taylor, the director of health care reform and senior fellow at The Century Foundation, moderated the event.     

During the discussion, Dr. Chandra and Dr. El-Sayed addressed the impact of chronic disease on marginalized groups, such as those defined by gender, race, ethnic groups, and socioeconomic status. The panel confronted issues regarding the COVID-19 global pandemic, as well as historical inequities that have forced marginalized communities to develop alternative means of navigating the medical industry and maintaining community health. The panel noted that healthcare inequities, such as in institutional and research funding, are compounding in their adverse effect on minorities, as they propagate distrust of institutional facilities and government-disseminated medical information. 

When asked about policy measures that could rebuild public trust within minority communities, especially in light of the impending release of a COVID-19 vaccine, Dr. El-Sayed said, “I am concerned about hesitancy with this particular vaccine for a number of reasons. One is all of the historical racism and the long shadow of a history of the biomedical establishment, taking advantage and exploiting black folks and black bodies. [...] I think we've got to be a lot more thoughtful about what we do, and I'm speaking as a former health commissioner, what we do to center the experiences of people that we are trying to serve, rather than to assume that if they don't center their lives around our bureaucracies and our systems, then they're acting irrationally.” 

The event concluded with a Q&A session, in which attendees asked salient questions regarding the panelists’ perspectives on the COVID crisis. One question inquired about what initiatives Dr. Chandra and Dr. El-Sayed would like to see from the incoming Biden presidential administration, to which the panelists emphasized immediate action directed at serving historically marginalized communities who have been disproportionately impacted by the crisis. Dr. Chandra stated, “In the very short run, though, I would like to see us have a difficult conversation around the performance of minority-serving hospitals and whether the policy solution is to give minority-serving hospitals more money -- because more money would allow them to buy better inputs, better CEOs, better leaders -- or whether the policy solution is to move patients to another hospital. [...] I think we're gonna have to figure out what is the best evidence that we can bring to bear to start to reduce racial disparities tomorrow. Not 10 years from now, not five years from now, but tomorrow.”