On Thursday, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, declared racism a “serious public health threat,” promising new efforts to “address racism as a fundamental driver of racial and ethnic health inequities in the United States.”
In a statement published on the CDC’s website, Walensky highlighted how the COVID-19 pandemic had disproportionately impacted communities of color.
“The impact of COVID-19 are felt, most severely, in communities of color—communities that have experienced disproportionate case counts and deaths, and where the social impact of the pandemic has been most extreme,” Walensky said.
“Instead, the pandemic illuminated inequities that have existed for generations and revealed for all of America a known, but often unaddressed, epidemic impacting public health: racism,” she continued.
Walensky called racism a public health issue that directly impacts the well-being and health of millions of Americans. She called on the CDC to play a larger role in addressing racism and its impact on the nation.
“What we know is this: racism is a serious public health threat that directly affects the well-being of millions of Americans. As a result, it affects the health of our entire nation. Racism is not just the discrimination against one group based on the color of their skin or their race or ethnicity, but the structural barriers that impact racial and ethnic groups differently to influence where a person lives, where they work, where their children play, and where they worship and gather in community. These social determinants of health have life-long negative effects on the mental and physical health of individuals in communities of color,” Walensky said.
Walensky also said a new web portal called “Racism and Health” will be added to “serve as a catalyst for public and scientific discourse around racism and health, and to be accountable for our progress.”
While these actions taken by the CDC are recent, Walensky says generations of structural inequities “have resulted in stark racial and ethnic health disparities that are severe, far-reaching and unacceptable.”