While blacks and other minority ethnic groups are at greater risk of contracting and dying from COVID-19 in the US, UK and several other countries, Clinical Pharmacology lecturer Dr Kenneth Connell says Caribbean governments have to address their issues of racial disparities as well. Speaking at the Univerisity of the West Indies’ virtual Vice-Chancellor’s forum on Race, Class and COVID-19, the Cave Hill Campus lecturer said that following the pandemic, barriers of race, public education and adequate healthcare must be aggressively tackled. Using T&T as an example due to its multiracial composition, Connel said: “There is a significant institutional bias and I will challenge anyone who kind of postulates that there isn’t, even in our Caribbean region. I started by saying the Caribbean region likes to think of ourselves as one big, happy, multicultural or multiracial family. But let us take, for example, a country like Trinidad: you have a large Indian population, you have a large black population, more so 50/50 if my figures are correct. “Are we uncomfortable speaking about this ethic divide as it enters the health system? In other words, do we as doctors and practitioners, nurses, physiotherapists, do we treat the Indo-Trinidadian any differently to the black Trinidadian? Do we even want to know if we do so? And how are we measuring it? And if there is a difference in the way they are treated in different races, then what policies can we put in place to address it?” Dr Melissa Creary, Assistant Professor of Health Management and Policy, School of Public Health at the University of Michigan, explained the vulnerability of blacks to

COVID-19 was about socioeconomic factors rather than physiology.While high rates of diabetes, hypertension, obesity, asthma and other underlying health issues among the black population is attributed to their large numbers in Intensive Care Units and mortality, Creary said overall structural inequities were not looked at. “Why do black American tend to have worse conditions than other American?”She said blacks have a higher rate of being uninsured, lower-income levels, limited access to healthcare, a systemic distrust of the healthcare system, suffer racial residential segregation and are employed in jobs that are high risk to diseases. Despite US President Donald Trump declaring that anyone can be tested for COVID-19, Creary said this is one of the largest disparities facing blacks.

A Centre for Disease Control and Prevention analysis of 1500 hospitalisation across 14 states found that blacks made up a third of those patients, despite accounting for 18 per cent of the populations in the areas studied. “As the novel coronavirus sweeps across the United States, it appears to be affecting the most marginalized of society. The poor, the black and the brown and it is infecting and killing black Americans at a disproportionately high rate,” Creary said While most of the panellists agree that the pandemic is exposing the structural disparities globally, professor Anthony Bogues, director at the Center for the Study of Slavery & Justice and Professor of Africana Studies at Brown University said this is a historical problem, rooted in the fact that the US was a slave society.“Historically, pandemic opens up things, making it clear, sometimes, what is hidden in plain sight,” Bogues said.