Beyond celebrating Black American resilience on Juneteenth, we must work to eliminate health disparities affecting this community.
Happy Juneteenth! Known officially as Juneteenth National Independence Day, Juneteenth is a federal holiday in the United States commemorating the June 19, 1865 emancipation of enslaved African Americans. It is a day to celebrate the journey, contributions, and resilience of Black Americans while working toward a future of equality and justice.
For healthcare professionals, that work includes eliminating healthcare disparities that continue to impact Black communities. Compared to other groups, Black Americans experience lower life expectancies, higher rates of chronic diseases, and poorer health outcomes.
Consider these statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC):
- Black Americans ages 35-64 years are 50 percent more likely to have high blood pressure than whites.
- Black Americans ages 18-49 are two times as likely to die from heart disease than whites.
- From 2020 to 2022, Black Americans’ life expectancy declined to about 71 years old, six years lower than their white counterparts.
The list of disparities goes on, exacerbated by socioeconomic factors like unemployment, poverty, obesity, and smoking. The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted these inequities even further, with Black Americans having higher rates of infection and death from the virus.
Health equity starts with us
Where does our work begin? Advocating for policy changes that improve access to healthcare for Black communities, addressing implicit bias and racism within the healthcare system, and promoting cultural competency in healthcare delivery are important first steps. (Cultural competency is being aware of your own cultural beliefs and values and how these may be different from other cultures.)
The CDC also offers these strategies for public health professionals:
- Work with other sectors, such as faith and community organizations, education, business, transportation, and housing, to create social and economic conditions that promote health starting in childhood.
- Link more people to doctors, nurses, or community health centers to encourage regular and follow-up medical visits.
- Develop and provide training for healthcare professionals to understand cultural differences in how patients interact with providers and the healthcare system.
On this Juneteenth, commit to achieving health equity for all and help create a healthcare system that is equitable, inclusive, and accessible.