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Health Team

To slow down the pandemic, minorities in the Americas need better access to health care

Posted June 9, 2020 12:03 p.m. EDT

— People who are of African descent and other ethnic minorities and indigenous populations should have better access to culturally relevant health care, if countries are ever going to get a better handle on the Covid-19 pandemic, according to the Pan American Health Organization.

The organization put out guidelines (PDF) Monday to help health care systems in the Americas better address how to help these populations that have been more vulnerable in this pandemic.

Many of the reasons the pandemic is worse for these communities, according to the report, stem from structural racism, as well as general discrimination, that results in health inequities, including barriers to care.

The PAHO serves two institutions: It's the World Health Organization's regional office for the Americas and the specialized health agency of the Inter-American System.

Earlier in the pandemic, PAHO reported that care of chronic disease is also essential, since having a chronic disease like high blood pressure or diabetes can increases a person's chance of dying or having severe symptoms from Covid-19.

High poverty levels, lack of access to water, good sanitization and food also make some communities more vulnerable.

Yet, because there are different vulnerabilities for different communities, there should be multiple appropriate approaches to keep communities safe. Isolated indigenous communities in the Amazon basin will have different needs than communities that live in crowded cities, for example.

Public health messages should go out in multiple languages and public health officials should work with local healers who can get across important messages about physical distancing and hand hygiene.

Regardless of the community, there are some commonalities that could help keep all groups safer during the pandemic. For example, PAHO has recommended people avoid settings that involve 10 people or more and also suggested people avoid physical contact.

Communities should encourage people to stock up on essential items like food and cleaning products, as well as drugs and medical supplies, to avoid going out too often. Testing must be more accessible, and health care systems should be deliberate in including these community's voices in decisions about how Covid-19 measures can be carried out.

Not enough data has been collected on the ethnic background of patients in the pandemic, according to the report.

Governments should be sure to collect information that captures the ethnicity of anyone who is sick, so public health experts can get a true and accurate picture of the impact of the pandemic.

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