Op-ed: Community health key to reducing pandemic-aggravated disparities
The National Institutes of Health’s Community Engagement Alliance to End Covid-19 Disparities teams and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s resources for community outreach have been instrumental in increasing vaccine confidence among communities at high risk of ill health. results. New York city health agencies have worked tirelessly to staff testing and vaccination sites.
Their reach has been amplified by local organizations and community health workers, who share lived experiences. Culturally appropriate strategies and messages are co-created with community partners and delivered in multiple languages. They are delivered to people where they are – in churches, mosques, pantries, barbershops and other community centers – and often through repeated encounters with trusted messengers.
Through storytelling, social media and virtual workshops in 15 languages, NYCEAL engaged low-income communities, many of whom experience language barriers. It’s no small feat that the city’s full immunization rate is currently 85% for adults, up from 54% in June.
As we focus on equity in diagnosis and treatment, it is essential that all communities are represented in clinical trials. The pandemic experience reveals that subgroups facing language barriers, such as Asian American, Afro-Caribbean, and Latino populations, are not well reflected in surveillance data. Disparities are latent when various groups are lumped together or categorized as ‘other’. Resources for community engagement are needed to understand barriers and facilitators to immunization, testing, treatment, and participation in health research among subgroups.
A study of health systems across the United States found reduced access to Covid-19 treatment for blacks, Asians, Hispanics and others.
Equity in access to vaccines, tests and treatments must focus on understanding and addressing vulnerability due to social determinants of health and systemic racism. Community engagement must remain at the forefront of public health efforts to reduce disparities related to Covid-19.
Errol Pierre is senior vice president of state programs at Healthfirst, a New York-based nonprofit insurer.
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