Arms crossed in unity.

Bridging the Health Equity Gap for African Americans

Posted on February 11, 2021 View the blog

In February our country celebrates the contributions of African Americans as well as highlighting issues of heart health.

While we normally celebrate the work of Civil Rights leaders such as Dr. Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks, we should also remember the impact that African Americans have had on medical research and leadership. Dr. Charles Drew pioneered the use of plasma to store blood, creating the first large scale blood bank in the United States. Dr. Daniel Hale Williams and other community leaders opened Provident Hospital in Chicago, the first black owned hospital and the first with an interracial staff. Dr. Williams also performed one of the first successful open-heart surgeries in our country. They, among many other CCH leaders, moved medicine forward both scientifically and in increasing equity.

Despite the hard work of these and other pioneers, the health equity gap between African Americans and whites continues to grow with extremely negative impacts. Across the board people of color have lower access to health insurance than non-Hispanic white people. In 2017, 10.6 percent of African Americans were uninsured compared with 5.9 percent of whites. People of color are less likely to have employer-based health insurance, and rely more upon public health coverage than white people.

Prevalence of chronic diseases like diabetes is higher in communities of color. For example, diabetes affects 16.% of African Americans nationally, versus 11.9% of white Americans. In the United States heart disease is the leading cause of death for all Americans, but it disproportionally impacts the lives of African Americans. For example, 47.3% of African American women suffer from heart disease, while 33.8% of white women do

These health issues are exacerbated by poverty and lack of access to nutritious food, safe and healthy housing, recreational facilities and outdoor spaces that are safe for exercise, and transportation. In Cook County, 25.03% of African Americans live in poverty, while only 7.49% of white people do

All of these factors lead to shorter life expectancies.  If you live in the West Garfield Park neighborhood of Chicago your life expectancy is around 68 years, while those who live in Lincoln Park live on average 81 years. The disparity in health equity for African Americans has become so great, that researchers have coined the term “excess deaths” to capture that if African Americans had the same access to health care as white Americans, there would be 100,000 fewer deaths in our country per year.

We urgently need to level the playing field and build health equity in communities of color.

Cook County Health Foundation needs your help. To make sure African Americans in our communities have access to high-quality healthcare, we must support our public health care system, Cook County Health. Approximately 45% of patients at CCH are uninsured. Our system responds to patients regardless of their ability to pay for care. Each of us has the capacity to help support this care and make good health a possibility for one of our neighbors.