Speakers cite racial inequalities in health care

Jan. 31, 2013 @ 09:34 PM

Minorities in Durham and the rest of the nation suffer from inequalities in health care, speakers at a forum said Thursday night.

“This is a huge injustice,” Jonathan Kotch, a physician at UNC’s Gillings School of Global Public Health, said at the Hayti Heritage Center on Fayetteville Street.

Kotch said health inequalities for minorities result from “social and economic discrimination.”

The “more glaring inequality” is with birth outcome, he said. A child born to a black woman is more likely to be born too soon, or too small, and is up to three times more likely to die in the first year of life.

Children born to second- and third-generation Latinos in the United States have worse outcomes than for the earlier generation, he said.

“The more Americanized those Latinos become, the more they look like African-Americans” in birth outcomes, Kotch said.

He cited other examples of health inequalities among minorities:

- More heart disease, strokes and diabetes.

- Higher rates of some cancers and hypertension.

- More asthma and other respiratory problems for those in urban areas.

- Less access to health care, resulting in fewer preventive measures such as immunizations and more unnecessary hospitalizations.

The Affordable Health Care Act, Kotch said, offers some hope in correcting health inequalities. But he said it doesn’t address underlying causes – poverty, discrimination, unequal educational opportunities, unemployment and exposure to pollution.

“Our work in reversing those inequalities goes on,” he said.

Also speaking at the forum was Gayle Harris, director of the Durham County Department of Public Health.

Harris illustrated the state of Durham County’s health with bar graphs supporting Kotch’s thesis of health inequality for minorities.

But Harris also pointed to positive steps her department has taken to help everyone become healthier – more walking trails, a campaign to reduce smoking and city bus routes more convenient for those going to a hospital.

Still, Harris said that “people of color aren’t doing as well, and we need to look at closing the gap.”

The forum was sponsored by Health Care for All – NC, the NCCU Department of Public Health, Occupy Health and Wellness NC and the Southern Anti-Racism Network.