By Johannah Brockie, guest blogger
Despite what has been said in recent months by politicians and celebrities about COVID-19 being an “equalizer,” we simply are not all equally at risk of contracting the virus. We have seen how this inequity manifests in past outbreaks such as influenza and H1N1where Black, Indigenous and People of Colour (BIPOC) were at disproportionate risk of contracting and being killed by such viruses. Generational inequity in living and working spaces, along with social conditions, create consequential disparities in health outcomes for racialized communities. While collecting race-based data in Canada has been recommended by racial equity experts, there have been minimal strides in this direction. COVID-19 is undoubtedly worsening already existing inequities in Canada.
According to the CDC, “long-standing systemic health and social inequities have put some members of racial and ethnic minority groups at increased risk of getting COVID-19 or experiencing severe illness, regardless of age.” In Ontario, Black individuals, primarily women are more often involved in precarious work and front-line employment such as personal support work. This is significant as BIPOC experience higher rates of chronic illnesses at earlier ages as well as higher death rates. COVID-19 can increase disease severity once an individual is infected, as well as create worse health outcomes.
We have been bombarded with social media posts, updates and advice from public health officials about how to minimize our risk of contracting COVID-19. But how are we to stay healthy when housing shortages in the city mean living in cramped spaces where social distancing is not a possibility? And, what do these edicts mean for Indigenous communities who do not have access to clean water? On top of this, many women and people of colour are distrusting of the health care system, or experience inaccessibility due to language barriers or not being able to miss work to obtain medical assistance, increasing their risk even further.
Ultimately, prevention efforts will fail to protect racialized communities from outbreaks so long as racism and stigma mark our health care systems. Canada must commit to recording consistent and inclusive data if there is any hope for addressing the inequalities that do exist and the gaps in the responses to COVID-19. As Kathy Hogarth, an associate professor of social work at the University of Waterloo has stated, “Without data, it’s all speculation, and as long as it remains in speculation, we can dismiss it. What we need is a very rigorous way of collecting our data that looks at inequalities. I guarantee you there are inequalities; we are not all impacted in the same way.”
To alter the outcome of COVID-19 and future pandemics, we need to critically analyze who the current health care system leaves behind and which communities continue to be harmed due to structural barriers to services, inadequate and discriminatory healthcare treatment, and service gaps.
Born in Brampton, Ontario, Johannah Brockie is a graduate of the Guelph Institute for Development Studies. Johannah’s passion for community programming and community engagement has led her to work in the non-profit sector in support of individuals with intellectual disabilities. This summer, Johannah will merge her passion for travel and non-profit work by connecting with, and supporting, marginalized communities across the nation through the Katimavik National Experience program. Learn more about Johanna’s work here.
Image by Retha Ferguson