Opinion | The Racial Time Bomb in the Covid-19 Crisis


But what is most worrisome is the racial disparity in prior health conditions that exist in the United States. As Bloomberg reported about a study of the deaths in Italy: “Almost half of the victims suffered from at least three prior illnesses, and about a fourth had either one or two previous conditions. More than 75 percent had high blood pressure, about 35 percent had diabetes and a third suffered from heart disease.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, high blood pressure is most common in non-Hispanic black adults (54 percent), and black people have the highest death rate from heart disease.

As for diabetes, the 2015 National Medical Association Scientific Assembly, held in Detroit, where my friend died, delivered these stark statistics:

“African-American patients are more likely than white patients to have diabetes. The risk of diabetes is 77 percent higher among African-Americans than among non-Hispanic white Americans. The rates of diagnosis of diabetes in non-Hispanic African-Americans is 18.7 percent compared to 7.1 percent.”

The group went on to say that in 2006, “African-Americans with diabetes were 1.5 times more likely to be hospitalized and 2.3 times more likely to die from diabetes than non-Hispanic whites.”

In addition, many Southern states refused to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, and there is a rural hospital crisis in this country. But that crisis is compounded in the South, where, as the magazine Facing South points out, the rural areas “have higher poverty rates, higher mortality rates, and lower life expectancies than other rural regions of the country.”

This all worries me, because I take a lesson from the H.I.V./AIDS crisis. In the beginning, it was largely seen as a New York and San Francisco problem affecting white men who were gay. Over the decades, treatments became available, and those cities saw their new infection rates plummet.

But the disease remained very much alive, particularly in the South, particularly among black people, where it has reached epidemic proportions. In the United States, more than 40 percent of people living with H.I.V. and 40 percent of people with new infections are black, according to the C.D.C., and “African-American men accounted for three-quarters of new H.I.V. infections among African-Americans in 2016, and 80 percent of these were among African-American gay and bisexual men.”


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