Global Health Blogs with Professor Swahn

Student Reflections on Topics Covered in our Class

Global Health Blogs with Professor Swahn

Black Lives Matter: Racial Discrimination and Burdens of Disease

October 15, 2020 · No Comments · BLM, Uncategorized

Recently, there have been many protests regrading racial discrimination and disparities in the United States and in other parts of the world. Although it seems like a recent issue, racial disparities have been happening for so many years. Black Lives Matter (BLM) is a political and social movement that advocates for equality among all races and ethnicities, specifically among Black people. These protests are happening because of police brutality and because of all violent crimes against Black people. 

The BLM Movement actually began in 2013 after Trayvon Martin, an African-American teen, was shot to death by George Zimmerman. The protests have returned during the pandemic due to the police brutality and shooting of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, both African-Americans, and these are only a few examples.

“Black/African-American residents face the greatest social, economic, and environmental hardships and consequently have the highest rates of acute and chronic disease, injury, and disability, and ultimately, lower life expectancy.” – San Francisco Health Needs Assessment, 2016

BLM and Public Health:

Not only is BLM a movement about government/politics, but also about public and global health. It is true that Black people and African-Americans are seeing and experiencing social injustice and police brutality, but they also see disparities in many different illnesses and diseases. Breast cancer mortality, for example, is more likely to occur among African-American women compared to White or Caucasian women (see graph below).

That being said, BLM has helped us be more aware that this movement isn’t just about civil rights, but also about human rights.

Civil Rights versus Human Rights:

The Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex or national origin. Provisions of this civil rights act forbade discrimination on the basis of sex, as well as, race in hiring, promoting, and firing. The Act prohibited discrimination in public accommodations and federally funded programs. It also strengthened the enforcement of voting rights and the desegregation of schools.” 

This Act allows all people in the United States to vote, allows the right to a public education, allows the right to government services, and allows the right to fair trial.

Human Rights are basic rights and freedoms justifiably to every person. They include rights to free speech, liberty, life, and equality.


Social Determinants of Health:As already mentioned, Black and African-Americans are seeing health disparities. These disparities can even be seen in one city; for example, the neighborhood or zip code people reside in makes a huge difference. For instance, some places or neighborhoods lack healthy food stores, banks, funded schools (poorer education outcomes), good housing quality. These communities also contain toxins in the air and in the water. These communities also experience lots of violence, experience lack of support for disabled & elderly, and incarceration, which can then lead to physical and mental health issues. Further, the Social Determinants of Health (SDH) are the economic and social conditions that influence individual and group differences.

BLM and Burdens of Disease:

Over the years, African-Americans have been disproportionately experiencing burden of disease, disability, injury, and death.

In 2008, the following were the top health concerns for African-Americans:

  1. Cardiovascular Disease
  2. Diabetes
  3. Vitamin D Deficiency
  5. Cancer – Lung, Breast, Colon, Prostate

Other health concerns that African-Americans are disproportionately experiencing are (2008):

  1. Sickle Cell Anemia
  2. Asthma
  3. Hepatitis C
  4. Depression

Although genetics play a role in certain health conditions, socioeconomic factors, such as the SDH we just discussed, also play a huge role in health conditions among African-Americans. Some people don’t have access to healthy food or don’t have the necessary resources to treat or prevent diseases. As of 2019, here are what experts warned African-Americans about: 

  1. Cardiovascular (Heart) Disease
  2. High Blood Pressure
  3. Cancer (Lung, Prostate, and Breast)
  4. Diabetes
  5. Stroke
  6. Peripheral Artery Disease
  7. Sickle Cell Disease

These diseases are typically seen among older people; however, many young Black individuals are going through and being diagnosed with these diseases. This could also be due to lack of access to care and cultural and environmental factors.

Standing up Against Discrimination:

We are all well aware of the racism and discrimination, the next step is to stand up against it and fight discrimination/disparities. Below is an outline created by the San Francisco Department of Public Health:

Moving forward: Solutions to Address Health Disparities

  1. Highlight the intersectionality of disparities: housing, the economy, the environment, access to food – all of these sectors come together to impact health
  2. Work across sectors to share information and generate solutions
  3. Be honest about what isn’t working to eliminate persistent disparities and why
  4. Experiment with new ideas and new partnerships
  5. Address current disparities but also change the policies and systems that perpetuate inequity

Dealing with Discrimination

A great source, the American Psychology Association, helps people find healthy ways to deal with discrimination: 

  • Focus on your strengths
  • Seek support systems
  • Get involved
  • Help yourself think clearly
  • Don’t dwell
  • Seek professional help




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