By Valerie D. Lockhart
SUN EXECUTIVE EDITOR
It sees no colors and does not discriminate based on one’s race, wealth nor educational levels. It freely crosses boundaries, striking both affluent and poor communities equally.
Pandemics are equal opportunity sicknesses. However, treatment rendered to African Americans afflicted may vary due a pre-existing condition – skin color.
“Of all the forms of inequality, injustice in healthcare is the most shocking and inhumane,” Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr said during a convention of the Medical Committee for Human Rights in March 1966.
COVID-19 (coronavirus) has stricken African American communities at a disproportionate rate. Lack of testing, personal protection equipment and proper education has contributed to the virus’ spread.
"It is critical to address the racial disparities of COVID-19 deaths and hospitalizations in the United States," Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said. "Reaching out through trusted messengers and advocates like the leaders from the Black Church is critically important as we communicate to the hardest hit communities. We must also remain vigilant as the vaccine is rolled out by continuing to use the tools we currently have at our disposal and that includes testing."
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Black people are hospitalized from COVID-19 at a rate approximately five times that of non-Hispanic white persons. A recent Johns Hopkins University study notes that Black individuals in some communities are dying at a rate nearly seven times higher than other population groups.
The black church has a long-time history of coming to the aide of African Americans during national disasters, racial injustices, and pandemics.
"As religious leaders, it is our duty to advocate for the health and survival of our community, provide our congregations with accurate information and guide society at large to a place of moral well-being," Rev. Al Sharpton, founder of the National Action Network, said. "As Martin Luther King Jr. once said, religious leaders should serve as a thermostat that transforms society, not a thermometer that takes the temperature and allows social pressure to influence it.”
A partnership between black churches, Resolve to Save Lives, United Way of New York City and Quest Diagnostics was formed and launched an action plan, Choose Healthy Life, this month to address public health disparities. Preventative education, vaccine awareness and greater access to COVID-19 testing will be provided under the plan.
"Today was a landmark moment in our history as faith and science joined together to stand against this deathly plague attacking the Black Community,” Debra Fraser-Howze, founder of the Choose Healthy Life Black Clergy Action Plan and advisor to two U.S. Presidents on HIV and AIDS from 1998 to 2003 said. "Together, with our partners at Quest Diagnostics, the United Way of New York City, and Resolve to Save Lives, we will work to ensure that our communities are informed, our voices are heard and our communities remain safe."
More than 50 black clergy leaders from across the country participated in a virtual discussion last month with scientific experts and the nation’s top doctors including Fauci.
"We must work together with community leaders like those from the Black Church to provide accurate information, build trust and ensure a successful rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine," Dr. Nancy Messonnier said. "Today's dialogue with the Choose Healthy Life Black Clergy Leadership Council was a critical step in community outreach and engagement between the medical communities and local faith leaders."
Participants hope the collaboration will help put an end toskin tones being a pre-existing condition for receiving medical treatment.
"United Way of New York City participated in a powerful dialogue between leaders of the scientific and faith communities on the urgency of COVID-19 testing, prevention and vaccination,” Sheena Wright, President and CEO of United Way of New York City, said. "Low income Black communities are being disproportionately devastated by COVID-19 and UWNYC is proud to partner with our nation’s Black clergy to strengthen community-based efforts for increased COVID-19 public health education, awareness and testing."
Renewed faith in medicine is expected to spread throughout African American communities as clergymen offer prayers along with lifesaving information.
"(The) summit featured a critical exchange of ideas and emphasized the historic importance of the Black Church in fighting public health crises in the Black community,” Rev. Calvin O. Butts said. "Following the methods deployed by Debra Fraser-Howze in the 1980s and 1990s, Black religious leaders are now taking the lead in providing testing and critical information to the Black community during the COVID-19 pandemic."
As information brightens black communities, healthcare injustices will start to fade. No longer will the color of one’s skin be viewed as a pre-existing condition for receiving treatment.
“Judge a man not by the color of his skin, but by the content of his character,” Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said.