Notes on Engineering Health, January 2021

Health Equity

The global COVID-19 pandemic caused an unprecedented number of challenges for our health systems during 2020. Many of these health challenges, however, have been persistent problems for years. For example, according to data released by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), almost one-third of COVID-19 infections in the U.S. have affected black Americans though they represent only 13% of the U.S. population. The death toll due to the COVID pandemic on the black community has clearly been extraordinary and disproportionate. The trend continues when it comes to vaccination, with poor planning potentially deepening the pandemic racial divide further.

However, issues related to access and quality of health care for black Americans are not new problems. Prior to the onset of the pandemic, black patients would lose limbs due to diabetes at a rate triple that of others. Amputations occur often in low-income and underinsured neighborhoods. Similarly, Pregnancy Related Mortality Rate (PRMR) was 3.2 times higher in black women than in white women according to the CDC. The PRMR for black women with at least a college degree was 5.2 times that of their white counterparts. 

While the COVID-19 pandemic has cast a strong spotlight on many of the root causes underlying health inequities and disparities in our society, the goal of achieving health equity remains clear as well. Health equity means that everyone has a fair and just opportunity to be as healthy as possible. Achieving health equity requires us to acknowledge and address a number of issues including the social determinants that affect health, such as poverty, discrimination, and access to quality education, safe environments, and health care. Reducing these disparities requires the participation of multiple systems, from how we pay for health, to understanding how and why diseases occur and persist and how to diagnose and treat them, to identifying and addressing biases in health care

As we enter 2021, Digitalis wishes you a safe and healthy New Year, and hopes to share with all of you its energy to take on the important problems of our times.

Jonathan Friedlander, PhD & Geoffrey W. Smith