Written Abubakarr Jalloh, Hollins University

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From the earliest days of the pandemic, COVID-19 has wrought a far higher toll in communities of color than in the general population – thrusting the long-standing issue of health disparities in the U.S. into the attention of public health officials and the general public.

Even though non-Hispanic white people make up 60% of the population, racial and ethnic minorities in the United States have borne significantly higher risks of COVID-19 infections than white people, as well as hospitalizations and deaths from COVID-19.

So a conversation is raging among doctors, health researchers, public health officials, policymakers and activists about how to address the social determinants of health that are driving this unequal toll on communities of color.

I am a global public health professor with expertise in multicultural health and health disparities. My teaching and research focus on the social determinants of health: the layers of policies, economic factors and social structures that affect health and quality of life, and the complicated ways they interact. I also study social justice in the context of public health, including the sociocultural context of infectious diseases.

Throughout the pandemic, American Indians and Alaska Natives as well as Hispanics and Latinos have borne more than twice the risk of white people of death from COVID-19, and Black people have been at nearly twice the risk.

Research has shown that the pandemic’s unequal toll on communities of color has been driven by long-standing health inequities: injustice or unfairness in the distribution of good health and well-being in society. Public health experts and professionals call the resulting health gaps “health disparities”: the inequitable differences that exist between various groups of people in terms of disease, injury, death and other health issues.