Dr. Rochelle P. Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and administrator of the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR), has declared racism a serious public health threat.
“What we know is this: racism is a serious public health threat that directly affects the well-being of millions of Americans,” Walensky said.
It is the first time that the CDC has taken such a bold position on race in America.
In doing so, Walensky highlighted several new efforts the CDC is leading to accelerate its work in addressing racism as a fundamental driver of racial and ethnic health inequities in the United States.
Walensky also unveiled a new website called “Racism and Health” that will serve as a hub for the agency’s efforts and a catalyst for greater education and dialogue around these critical issues.
She posited that racism affects everyone.
“It affects the health of our entire nation,” Walensky wrote in a statement. “Racism is not just the discrimination against one group based on the color of their skin or their race or ethnicity, but the structural barriers that impact racial and ethnic groups differently to influence where a person lives, where they work, where their children play, and where they worship and gather in community. These social determinants of health have lifelong negative effects on the mental and physical health of individuals in communities of color.”
Walensky will be a guest at 7:30 a.m. on Wednesday, April 21, on the National Newspaper Publishers Association’s daily morning livestream program “Let It Be Known.” Viewers can watch the show at Facebook.com/BlackPressUSA/Videos, YouTube.com/c/BlackPressUSATV, and on Twitter @BlackPressUSA.
Since the pandemic outbreak more than one year ago, the United States has recorded over 31 million cases of the coronavirus and more than 560,000 deaths. African Americans and other communities of color have adversely been affected.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in the death of over 500,000 Americans. Tens of millions have been infected,” Walensky said. “And across this country, people are suffering. Importantly, these painful experiences and the impact of COVID-19 are felt, most severely, in communities of color – communities that have experienced disproportionate case counts and deaths, and where the social impact of the pandemic has been most extreme.
“Yet, the disparities seen over the past year were not a result of COVID-19. Instead, the pandemic illuminated inequities that have existed for generations and revealed for all of America a known, but often unaddressed, epidemic impacting public health: racism,” she said.
The director unveiled a list of actions the CDC plans to take, including:
• Continuing to study the impact of social determinants on health outcomes, expand the body of evidence on how racism affects health, and propose and implement solutions to address this.
• With COVID-19 funding, the CDC is making new and expanded investments in racial and ethnic minority communities and other disproportionately affected communities around the country, establishing a durable infrastructure that will provide the foundation and resources to address disparities related to COVID-19 and other health conditions.
• The CDC also is expanding its internal agency efforts to foster greater diversity and create an inclusive and affirming environment for all.
• The CDC is launching a new web portal, “Racism and Health,” as part of its ongoing commitment to serve as a catalyst for public and scientific discourse around racism and health and to be accountable for our progress.
“Confronting the impact of racism will not be easy. I know that we can meet this challenge,” Walensky said. “I know that we can create an America where all people have the opportunity to live a healthy life when we each take responsibility and work together. I am committed to this work. I certainly hope you will lean in and join me.”