Ayanna V. Buckner, MD, MPH, FACPM is the principal of Community Health Cooperative, a consulting firm that assists non-profits, corporations, government agencies, and other groups with the design, implementation, and evaluation of community-based health programs.
I have spent my medical career addressing the needs of underserved communities. As I have followed the impact of COVID-19 on our country, it has never been clearer that we have a considerable amount of work to do to achieve health equity. National data suggest that the African American community is disproportionately impacted by COVID-19, and data from Georgia, my hometown of New Orleans, Louisiana, Chicago, and New York City paint a similar picture.
As we battle the COVID-19 pandemic, protests have taken place across our country in response to what has been described as a "racism pandemic". I live in Atlanta, Georgia, which is called the “the cradle of the Civil Rights Movement”. Headlines from my local Patch.com news alerts have read as follows:
May 30, 2020 – “Georgia Tops 2,000 Coronavirus Deaths, Hospital Cases Grow”
June 1, 2020 – “Ready Or Not, Here We Come: Georgia Reopens Bars, COVID Keeps Killing”
June 3, 2020 – “Georgia Protesters Urged To Take Coronavirus Tests”
I worry about what will happen as the two pandemics continue to converge. I worry about what the next headline will say. But we must keep working. Lives depend on it.
As I think about the vital role of preventive medicine in the advancement of health equity, I am proud of ACPM’s leadership in addressing hypertension disparities, as hypertension is one of the most common comorbidities associated with severe cases of COVID-19. ACPM is collaborating with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to prevent, detect and control hypertension among African-American men ages 45-64. With support from the Division for Heart Disease and Stroke Prevention, a part of the CDC National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, ACPM is funding demonstration projects across diverse clinical settings with majority African American patients. The results and lessons learned from these practice-leading projects will be used to educate providers across the country on hypertension prevention, detection and control for key at-risk populations. I am honored to serve as a faculty member on this project, as well as to have served on the previous initiative focused on African American women.
I am also pleased about the recent announcement of ACPM’s Daniel S. Blumenthal Annual Lecture, which will focus on how we can contribute to ending structural racism. But I hope that our attention to this important issue doesn’t end there. And as we plan for continuing medical education sessions and conference presentations on the COVID-19 pandemic, I am hopeful that ACPM members will prioritize sharing our experiences and best practices in pandemic response within African American, Native American, and Latino communities, as well as other vulnerable groups.
As preventive medicine physicians, it is imperative that we recognize opportunities for action as they present themselves. During a pandemic, it’s particularly urgent that we do so. The confluence of the COVID-19 crisis and the racial tensions in our country present a unique opportunity to address health equity with renewed vigor and resolve. As we analyze data, implement community-based programs, write health policies, provide clinical services, and conduct other activities around the pandemic and beyond, it is paramount that we consider how racism and privilege play out in our lives on daily basis. Then we must make the needed adjustments in our professional and personal lives to address them. Again, lives depend on it.