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Racial and Economic Health Inequities and COVID-19

Image of microvirus under a microscope

May 1, 2020

As COVID-19 spreads across the globe, researchers in public health who have been examining health inequities since before the pandemic are now being called upon to testify to the deepening consequences of inequality. Sharrelle Barber, ScD, MPH, assistant research professor at the UHC and the Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics, is one of these public health researchers speaking to multiple media outlets on the health inequities being highlighted during this pandemic.

Data show that COVID-19 is infecting and killing Blacks in the United States at disproportionately high rates. As this data began to emerge, Dr. Barber and colleagues from around the country released a blog entitled “Racism in the Time of COVID-19”, to outline, with extreme clarity, how racism would operate during the pandemic. High levels of segregation in urban areas is one contributing factor, “these communities, structurally, they’re breeding grounds for the transmission of the disease.” Dr. Barber spoke to the NY Times in depth about this issue, “It’s not biological. It’s really these existing structural inequalities that are going to shape the racial inequalities in this pandemic.” Dr. Barber also appeared on Al Jazeera’s web-based international broadcast The Stream along with Nikole-Hannah Jones to discuss the disproportionate impact on Black communities.

Along with speaking to the media, Barber’s work has also been focused on serving as coordinator and senior advisor of the COVID-19 Health Justice Advisory Committee for the Poor People’s Campaign. The committee is comprised of partners from the Harvard FXB Center for Health and Human Rights and the UCLA Center for the Study of Racism, Social Justice, and Health. This committee was created to provide public health expertise that will help ground the campaign’s action and advocacy around the coronavirus pandemic. Barber notes that “as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to unfold, it will be necessary to bridge the gap between science and social activism and use our collective voices to demand an equitable, just, and moral response to the crisis and beyond.”

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