The CDC launches effort to reduce racial disparities in health.


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In April, Rochelle P. Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), declared racism to be "a serious public health threat that directly affects the well-being of millions of Americans." She noted in her statement that the COVID-19 pandemic illuminated long-standing structural inequities that have resulted in "severe, far-reaching, and unacceptable" health disparities for communities of color.

Figure. Citizens ral... - Click to enlarge in new windowFigure. Citizens rally in solidarity with the AAPI community against anti-Asian racism. (C) 2021 Marilyn Humphries / Alamy Stock Photo.

The CDC director is the latest government official to explicitly call racism a public health threat and demand action. Beginning with the Milwaukee, Wisconsin, health department in May 2019, more than 200 local, municipal, and state governing bodies have passed resolutions declaring racism to be a public health crisis.


The American Nurses Association did so in June 2020 in their resolution on Racial Justice for Communities of Color, as did National Nurses United, in their 2020 Racial Justice Resolution.


The CDC declaration brings national attention and resources to addressing racism and its impact on health. Walensky announced four actions the agency is undertaking: studying the impact of social determinants on health outcomes; expanding investments in racial and ethnic minority communities; expanding efforts to foster diversity and inclusion within the CDC; and launching a new web portal, Racism and Health.


Eun-Ok Im, president of the Asian American Pacific Islander Nurses Association (AAPINA) voiced strong support for the CDC declaration, citing data released by the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University, San Bernardino, showing that anti-Asian hate crimes increased by 150% in 2020, while overall hate crimes dropped by 7%.


"Asian American communities are currently suffering and mourning with fear and anxiety about anti-Asian attacks and xenophobia," Im told AJN. Condemning the surge in violence against Asian Americans, AAPINA noted in a statement that women suffer twice the abuse that men do and immigrant women are particularly vulnerable, as evidenced in the March mass shooting in Atlanta, where eight people were killed, six of them Asian women.


Im noted that at this time when "the face of racism is getting uglier and uglier," it is important for people to join together to fight for justice and equity and to be "strategic and systematic in our approaches for a better future."-Karen Roush, PhD, RN, FNP-BC, news director