By: Mehroz Baig
Disease doesn’t discriminate. Disease also doesn’t operate in a vacuum. As public health researchers have spent more time looking at how disease affects certain populations, public health professionals have come to realize the critical impact that social determinants play in people’s health: everything from the economy, the environment, access to food, clean air, and water affect a person’s health. Where a person lives can have a direct impact in how long they live and the type of health they encounter during their life. This is true in San Francisco, where a recent health assessment found that, “on average, Black/African American residents live 10 years less than Whites, 14 years less than Asian and Pacific Islanders, and 11 years less than Latinos(as).”
The situation isn’t much different across the bay in Alameda County. According to the Alameda County Health Department, someone who identifies as African-American born in West Oakland can expect to live 71 years whereas their white counterparts in the Oakland Hills can expect to live 85 years, a difference of 14 years. This data isn’t new and unfortunately, not surprising. The question has been and continues to be, ‘what can we do about it?’
The past five years have given rise to a number of movements, including Black Lives Matter, and the Movement for Black Lives, that are asking this question with clarity and purpose, and demanding an answer. Though the Black Lives Matter movement started as a response to police brutality against African-Americans, its philosophy has grown to encompass all the ways in which people who identify as black/African-American are being injured. This includes inequality when it comes to health. The movement is rooted in promoting human rights. As their website notes, “we are talking about the ways in which Black lives are deprived of our basic human rights and dignity.”
It now becomes our role to think about how we can use this moment in time, and these questions to provide real solutions to health inequity. Leaders in public health in both Alameda and San Francisco counties are acutely aware of how much inequity impacts human lives. They, along with experts in social justice, shed light on what some of the barriers are that public health has faced thus far in addressing health disparities. But they are optimistic that we can make a difference and do things differently. Take a listen and hear how we can move this conversation forward into action.
- Jessica Brown, Manager of Training and Workforce Development, San Francisco Department of Public Health
- Muntu Davis, Health Officer, Alameda County Health Department
- Joy DeGruy, author of Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome
- Melissa Jones, Executive Director, Bay Area Regional Health Inequities Initiative
- Krystal Robinson Justice, Special Projects Coordinator, Bay Area Regional Health Inequities Initiative
- Zachary Norris, Executive Director, Ella Baker Center for Human Rights
- Veronica Shepard, Collective Impact Coordinator, Black/African-American Health Initiative, San Francisco Department of Public Health
How do you think we can address disparities in health outcomes? Share your thoughts with us here or via Twitter @getsfcba with the hashtag #equalhealth.