COVID-19 Shines a Light on Health Disparities

Fatma Shalan

CUNY School of Medicine, MS1


May 10, 2020

Brooklyn, New York

People fear what they don’t understand and hate what they can’t conquer. Denying the existence of health disparities denies the existence that minority communities have disproportionately faced increasingly alarming health disparities. These health disparities are attributable to being historically disadvantaged in society.

Health disparities are preventable differences in the burden of disease, injury, violence, or opportunities related to economic, social, or environmental disadvantage that are experienced by socially disadvantaged populations. Physicians and scientists have noticed and studied health disparities for a long time. In fact, recent studies have suggested that “200 black people die every single day in the United States who would not have died if the health experience of African Americans was equivalent to that of whites.” It is important to emphasize how the recent COVID-19 pandemic has shone a light on health inequality and how this virus has disproportionately impacted socially disadvantaged populations most.

My first experience with health disparities began upon my admission into the CUNY School of Medicine BS/MD program, where I first learned what the term meant. From then on, I started to notice how health inequities impacted several minority groups and neighborhoods around me. Living in NYC, health disparities existed within just walking distance from one district to another. Doing fieldwork and shadowing in clinics in the Bronx, I noticed how African-American and Latino populations were more susceptible to disease due to a lack of access and barriers to care. It was evident during my field work, that certain races and ethnicities tended to have higher rates of disease due to structural barriers and access to care related to the social determinants of health. It is unfortunate that although health inequities have existed for a long time Covid-19 has shone a light on just how severe these disparities are.

According to the NYSDOH, as of May 8th 2020, Hispanics and Black people are impacted the most by coronavirus in NYC with the highest fatality rates. Covid-19 is desperately emphasizing the health disparities in minority communities and the need to establish a public health system for minorities. Although some may argue that this could be due to African Americans and Hispanics carrying comorbidities such as diabetes and coronary artery disease, this could be attributed to the institutional barriers that minority communities face historically. Minority communities can be settled in areas where there are food deserts and access to healthy food is scarce or expensive compared to the cost of living.

As a future physician, with a goal to serve the underserved, as my school has instilled in me, I plan to work on making a change to provide these communities with quality care. I would like to give these communities a voice in which they are heard and a voice that allows them to speak out and give back to their communities as well. Although the Covid-19 has led to many unfortunate circumstances, it has exposed the health inequities minorities face and the need for change.


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