Response to the Death of George Floyd
Thomas M. File, Jr., M.D., FIDSA — President, Infectious Diseases Society of America
Judith Feinberg, M.D., FIDSA — Chair, HIV Medicine Association
The incomprehensible death of George Floyd has left our country grieving and demands attention to the environment of disparities, inequities and structural racism in which it occurred. As infectious diseases and HIV health care providers, we stand against discrimination in any form. We are deeply concerned by the over-policing, the apparent disregard for black lives, and long-standing structural inequities that plague our country. We will continue to call for answers to the consequences that we see in our streets, in our emergency rooms and in our practices, again and again.
While overt acts of racism continue to leave their devastating impacts on our nation, we must also acknowledge that the impacts of structural racism infiltrate every aspect of life in the United States at every level, from law enforcement, education, housing, and employment opportunities to accessing adequate health care coverage. Whether overt, or concealed within the structures of our nation’s laws and policies, racism fuels inequities that are detrimental to public health, including the profound disparities of the COVID-19 pandemic. As frontline health care providers, we witness the harmful impacts of structural discrimination on our African American, Latinx and other black and brown patients in the form of limited access to health care that leads to stress, fear, stigma, higher predispositions to chronic diseases and shortened lifespans.[i]
We have watched for nearly nine minutes, as George Floyd called for help and struggled for breath, before dying, pinned under a police officer’s knee, while other officers stood by, even as we grapple with a pandemic that has claimed more than 100,000 lives in the U.S., with by far its greatest impacts on African Americans and other vulnerable communities. While African Americans comprise 13% of the U.S. population,[ii] they make up 34% of those hospitalized due to COVID-19.[iii] One in 1,850 African Americans have died from COVID-19 versus one in 4,400 white Americans.[iv] These disparities are all too familiar as we continue to see the impact of the HIV epidemic on African Americans, who represent 43% of new HIV diagnoses and 44% of deaths.[v]
While one police officer has been charged with murder, in the midst of these unprecedented events, we call for systemic, immediate and durable change. The confluence of the racism and the coronavirus crises in our country is undeniable. We must have equity and justice from law enforcement agencies, in our penal system, from our leaders and throughout our health care system, including investments in much-needed measures that will provide equitable access to quality health care.
IDSA and HIVMA will continue to pursue collaboration with other medical and public health organizations and policymakers to support structural changes to eliminate racism and health disparities, including through health system reforms. As a medical society, we will continue to cultivate a diverse, credible and culturally competent infectious diseases workforce to optimally serve our diverse patient population. We will ensure our processes and practices reflect the values and interests of our diverse membership.
Change is long overdue. It is our nation’s duty to implement measures that will correct systemic inequities and ensure equal treatment of all citizens, regardless of race. We stand together with the communities we serve and add our voice to help achieve this goal.
[i] Bailey ZD, Krieger N, Z Agénor M, et al. Structural racism and health inequities in the USA: evidence and interventions. Lancet 2017; 389: 1453–63.
[ii] U.S. Census. Quick Facts. The United States. Online at: https://www.census.gov/quickfacts/fact/table/US/IPE120218. Accessed June 1, 2020.
[iii] Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. COVIDView: A Weekly Surveillance Summary of U.S. COVID-19 Activity. Online at: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/covid-data/covidview/index.html. Accessed June 1, 2020.
[iv] APM Research Lab. The Color of Coronavirus: Covid-19 Deaths By Race and Ethnicity in the U.S. Online at: https://www.apmresearchlab.org/covid/deaths-by-race. Accessed June 1, 2020.
[v] Kaiser Family Foundation. Black Americans and HIV/AIDS: The Basics. Feb 7 2020.