Obtaining and sharing truthful facts about COVID-19 and relying on science can help to lessen the burden on minority communities hit by the pandemic.
Dr. Gary H. Gibbons, Director of the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (National Heart, Lung, Blood Institute, or NHLBI, for its acronym in English)
Dr. Eliseo J. Pérez-Stable, Director of the National Institute of Health of Minorities and Health Disparities (National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities or NIMHD, for its acronym in English)
COVID-19 has killed more than 230,000 people in the United States, and deaths continue to increase at a rate of about 1,000 people per day. However, we know that families and communities do not count their losses in the thousands or hundreds; They are counted one by one: a father, a teacher, a sister, a friend, a nurse, a son, a tribal leader, or a member of the Church, and these losses hurt.
Latinos, along with African Americans and American Indians, account for more than half of all COVID cases. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), these groups require hospitalization at a rate roughly five times higher than white people, due to the severity of their illnesses or lack of prompt care. medical. Additionally, Latinos and Native Americans die at a rate 1.5 times higher than whites.
As scientists and colleagues at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) with more than 60 years of combined experience in research on health disparities, we are not surprised by these grim statistics. But we are also deeply sorry for these terrible numbers: they represent our friends, our family and our loved ones, since our roots are in these same communities; in the African American neighborhoods of Philadelphia and in the Cuban immigrant diaspora of Miami.
COVID-19 has simply revealed the health disparities that have long affected underserved communities like ours. We know, for example, that obesity, diabetes, and heart disease are more prevalent among minority populations. However, if you have one of these conditions and contract COVID-19, you are at a much higher risk of serious complications and death.
As we struggle with the effects of these health inequalities in our daily lives, we can take simple steps to help prevent the immediate spread of this disease, starting with wearing masks, washing our hands, and maintaining a physical distance of six feet between people. But that will not be enough to end the pandemic in minority communities.
As leaders of two public health research agencies, we know that we cannot simply come up with solutions from Washington, DC Through joint local efforts we can ensure that the most accurate information reaches these communities, and that they are included in various research studies. essential for developing safe and effective vaccines and treatments for all. That’s why NIH has awarded $ 12 million to support teams in 11 states to establish the Community Engagement Alliance (CEAL) Against COVID-19 Disparities.
This Alliance has already brought together community and faith-based organizations, physicians, patients, researchers, community advocates, and minority educational institutions. Our hope is that by working together, we will find ways to overcome COVID-19.
How do we do it? In principle, we offer reliable and easy-to-understand science-based information, dispel myths, and explain the importance of scientific research. Trusted members in communities like yours want access to accurate information that can be widely shared.
Importantly, we will also encourage participation in research studies designed to eradicate COVID-19 in high-risk communities. This is done because clinical trials, the fundamental part of the scientific process, show whether new drugs and vaccines are effective in protecting people against disease. When a drug is approved and your doctor prescribes it for you, you are not wrong to wonder if the drug has been studied, and if it has been shown to work, especially if it has been shown to work for people like you.
This is why it is so important that research studies include people of all races, genders, ages, socioeconomic classes, and more. We cannot develop effective drugs and vaccines to overcome COVID-19 in minority communities without the active participation of the people who live there.
Inclusive scientific inquiry leads to solutions that get us where we need to be. We already have regulations in place to ensure that historical errors are not repeated, and that safety and ethical standards are applied. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA), NIH review boards and expert panels; in fact, each institution or company conducting medical research rigorously reviews each phase of a clinical trial, from before it begins to after it ends. These review boards include not only scientists, doctors, and experts, but also community advocates who monitor the process.
While these factors are critical to ending this public health emergency, we must keep our eyes on an even greater goal: a nation without the disruptive health inequalities that compromise the health of our entire society. We fully understand the power of the community to make a difference in the long fight against this problem that we can overcome.
We firmly believe that by sharing robust information, defeating misinformation, behaving as responsible citizens, and building trust in science, we can eliminate this deadly pandemic.
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