Rochelle P. Walensky, MD, MPH, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention – Official photo


Special to The Dallas Examiner


Rochelle P. Walensky, MD, MPH, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and administrator of the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, declared racism a serious public health threat. Adding action to words, on April 8 she highlighted several new efforts the CDC is leading to accelerate its work to address racism as a fundamental driver of racial and ethnic health inequities in the United States. She also unveiled a new website, called Racism and Health, that would serve as a hub for the agency’s efforts and a catalyst for greater education and dialogue around these critical issues.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in the death of over 500,000 Americans. Tens of millions have been infected,” Walensky stated. “And across this country people are suffering. Importantly, these painful experiences and the impact of COVID-19 are felt, most severely, in communities of color – communities that have experienced disproportionate case counts and deaths, and where the social impact of the pandemic has been most extreme.”

The disparities revealed during the pandemic were not a result of COVID-19, according to the director who stated that the pandemic actually helped to shine a light on the inequities that already existed and has for many generations. At the same time, it also revealed an ongoing epidemic that has impacted public health throughout the country: racism.

“What we know is this: racism is a serious public health threat that directly affects the well-being of millions of Americans,” she explained. “As a result, it affects the health of our 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. These social determinants of health have life-long negative effects on the mental and physical health of individuals in communities of color.”

She further stated that the aforementioned structural inequities have resulted in stark racial and ethnic health disparities for generations, which she stated was “severe, far-reaching and unacceptable.”

As the nation’s leading public health agency, she said the CDC has a critical role to play to address the impact of racism on public health:

  • Continue to study the impact of social determinants on health outcomes, expand the body of evidence on how racism affects health, and propose and implement solutions to address this.
  • With COVID-19 funding, continue making new and expanded 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.
  • Expanding its internal agency efforts to foster greater diversity and create an inclusive and affirming environment for all.
  • Continue launching its new web portal Racism and Health as part of its ongoing commitment to serve as a catalyst for public and scientific discourse around racism and health, and to be accountable for our progress.

“Confronting the impact of racism will not be easy,” Walensky concluded. “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.”

Mollie Finch Belt is the Publisher and Chief Executive Officer of The Dallas Examiner. She attended elementary school in Tuskegee, Ala.; Cambridge, Mass.; and Dallas, Texas. In 1961, she graduated from...

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