CINCINNATI (NewsNation Now) — The COVID-19 pandemic is shining a light on the racial disparities that exist in the United States health care system.
Recent research shows that communities of color are faced with racism as a public health concern.
According to the National Library of Medicine, experimental studies forced surgeries without anesthesia and segregation within hospitals are some of the reasons we see racial disparities in the healthcare system today.
In the past year, a number of elected leaders and local health officials have gone on the record saying that those practices have created public health crises in their communities.
For 16 years, Dr. Regina Whitfield Kekessi has worked as an OBGYN.
She practices in Cincinnati and is one of a growing number of healthcare professionals who link systematic racism to inequal access to quality care.
“I think we have to be real about the history of this nation. This nation was built on — when we really talk about inception — this nation was built on, it is my opinion that this nation was built on free labor,” explained Kekessi.
Dr. Brian Williams is a Chicago-based surgeon.
He says in the years since slavery, there are were documented injustices which targeted African-Americans
“Let’s look back to the distrust that Black Americans have with healthcare. If we look at the history of medical exploitation for experimentation of Black Americans that would help people understand why people are hesitant of taking a vaccine,” said Williams.
In 1932, the Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment. Six hundred Black men in Alabama were recruited by the government on a promise of free medical care. Many were sharecroppers who never visited a doctor. The CDC says 399 had Syphilis .
Rather than being given lifesaving medicine, many went blind, insane and or died of the disease.
The study was only set to go on for six months, but it lasted for 40 years.
“We talk about Tuskegee. People understand that but there’s much more to it than just Tuskegee. There were operations that were done on enslaved women without anesthetic and without their consent,” said Williams. “There were women up to the 1980s even teenage girls who were sterilized against their will or without their knowledge.”
Both doctors say the lingering effects of the experiments and mistreatment have led to generations of fear and mistrust for medical professionals and procedures.
A survey from the Kaiser Family Foundation revealed that 35% of Black adults are not planning to get COVID-19 vaccines.
Williams says the only way to end disparities and mistrust in healthcare is to educate others.
“Right now we need to start planning what we’re going to do after the pandemic to change things so that the next generation doesn’t suffer as this generation is suffering right now. We need to be strategic and think long term about what were doing to do now to change, to transform society,” said Williams.
“We just have to make decisions as individuals to do our part. We cannot change other people but we can do our best to educate and make an impact on our children and our community,” said Kekessi.
Kekessi is encouraged by what some are actively doing to improve their quality of life.
“We’re learning to create those gardens in the midst of our communities so people can come and get fresh produce if our grocery stores aren’t there anymore. We are building and establishing our own pharmacies again,” said Kekessi.
She says as with any major change it will take collective effort to make it happened.
Businessman and former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg recently committed $100 million to help increase the number of black doctors in the United States.
There are also several non-profits established across the nation solely focused on ending healthcare disparities and offering help to communities of color during the pandemic.