Health Discrepancies Among Minorities Rooted in ‘Racist’ Teachings of the Past, Book States
Today's New York Times profiles a book by two Harvard researchers titled, "An American Health Dilemma: A Medical History of African Americans and the Problem of Race: Beginnings to 1900." The book states that a history of "abuse, exploitation and ethical turpitude" dating back to the "roots" of Western medicine accounts for racial discrepancies in the health care system and higher mortality rates among blacks. The book's authors, Dr. Linda Clayton, a senior research scientist at the Harvard School of Public Health, and her husband Dr. Michael Byrd, who has spent 25 years studying racism's influence on the health care system, say that the problems blacks face in today's health care system are not a "recent aberration," but the evolution of problems that started with the "dawn" of medicine and science in ancient Greece, Egypt and Rome. While acknowledging that economic and a social inequities contribute to "gaps" in medical treatment between blacks and whites, the authors say racism and "myths" beginning in the 1600s and taught in American medical schools in the early 1800s continue to affect the medical treatment of minority groups, especially blacks.
Despite existing disparities in access to health care and higher mortality rates among blacks, Clayton and Byrd "agreed that strides had been made" to narrow the racial health gap, particularly in the 1960s with the creation of community health centers. Clayton and Byrd note that the acknowledgement of racial disparities by the president, surgeon general and HHS is a "hopeful sign." In addition, the New York Times points to efforts by the federal government to address racial disparities, such as the NIH Office of Research on Minority Health and HHS programs, which are "spearheading" efforts to study sickle cell disease, a condition primarily affecting blacks. Furthermore, the Minority Health Initiative, a federal program, will develop a $20 million center to focus on on "correcting health disparities among minorities." But Dr. Richard Allen Williams, head of the Minority Health Institute, a not-for-profit organization focusing on "health care inequities," said: "We've made important strides in social integration and in eliminating some aspects of social disorder, but that's not been translated into terms of health care delivery. There's still a lot of bias, and the people who need it the most don't get into the system. We're still weighted down by the impact of slavery" (Langone, New York Times, 12/19).