ATLANTA, Ga. — The director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has declared racism a “serious public health threat.”
Dr. Rochelle Walensky made the declaration on Thursday and laid out what the agency is doing to address racism as a fundamental driver of racial and ethnic inequalities in the U.S.
The declaration comes at a time when more states and communities are also considering racism a public health emergency following last year’s calls for racial justice in the killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and other people of color.
In a statement, Walensky highlighted the fact that communities of color are being disproportionately impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, with more cases and deaths.
“Yet, the disparities seen over the past year were not a result of COVID-19. Instead, the pandemic illuminated inequities that have existed for generations and revealed for all of America a known, but often unaddressed, epidemic impacting public health: racism,” wrote Walensky.
Walensky says racism directs the well-being of millions of Americans and as a result, it affects the health the entire nation.
“Racism is not just the discrimination against one group based on the color of their skin or their race or ethnicity, but the structural barriers that impact racial and ethnic groups differently to influence where a person lives, where they work, where their children play, and where they worship and gather in community,” said Walensky. “These social determinants of health have life-long negative effects on the mental and physical health of individuals in communities of color.”
Over generations, Walensky says the structural inequities have resulted in racial and ethnic health disparities that are severe, far-reaching and unacceptable.
To combat these issues, Walensky says the CDC will keep studying the impact of social determinants on health outcomes, expand the body of evidence on how racism affects health, and implement solutions to address this.
The director says the CDC is also making new investments in racial and ethnic minority communities and other disproportionately affected communities around the country, establishing a durable infrastructure that will provide the foundation and resources to address disparities related to COVID-19 and other health conditions.
Additionally, the CDC is also expanding its internal agency efforts to foster greater diversity and create an inclusive environment for all.
In her statement, Walensky also unveiled a new website titled “Racism and Health,” which will serve as a hub for the CDC’s efforts and a catalyst for greater education and dialogue around these issues.
“Confronting the impact of racism will not be easy,” wrote Walensky. “I know that we can meet this challenge. I know that we can create an America where all people have the opportunity to live a healthy life when we each take responsibility and work together. I am committed to this work. I certainly hope you will lean in and join me.”