CMBC 2020 – Exposing Sustained Health Inequality

During the annual Caribbean Multinational Business Conference, we heard from several distinguished medical experts On the Exposing Sustained Health Inequality panel.  

Panelists included Dr. Wayne Riley, Dr. Olajide Williams, Dr. Donna Christensen, and Dr. Bert Petersen who shared their views on the importance of getting the coronavirus vaccine and dealing with COVID during flu season.

At the time of this panel discussion, over 10 million people in the US tested positive and more than 200,000 had died.

The panel members are here as warriors to tell us how to save ourselves. 

Dr. Wayne Riley, MD, MPH, MBA, MACP, President of the State University of New York (SUNY) Downstate Health Sciences University, a distinguished physician, internist, academician, clinical educator, and administrator, opened the discussion on the persistent health disparities that exist.

He recalled being in the barbershop and hearing the men discuss callously what they believed was just another flu.

The three biggest diseases prevalent in Black and Caribbean patients they saw with COVID-19 were obesity, hypertension, and diabetes.

Then there is the vocational impact. Black and Brown people are more likely to work in essential services.

Wear a mask, limit social gatherings, get tested when you feel you manifest symptoms of COVID-19. He stressed getting the vaccine.

He believes Black and Brown communities need to be focused on in the distribution of this vaccine. He has worked with Dr. Fauci previously and trusts his judgment.

For the people who are skeptical about this vaccine, he said let it go because we should trust the scientists. Get the social groups activated to deal with the reach for this vaccine.

He warned that COVID-19 is not like the flu, it is more deadly.

Dr. Donna Christensen, former Congress Member for the United States Virgin Islands was head of the Congressional Black Caucus Health Task Force for several years and was key to many of the healthcare laws coming out of Congress, including the Affordable Health Care Act.

She believes that as we tackle the disparities shown up by COVID-19, we must root out systemic racism wherever it exists.

She spoke on the kinds of jobs we are hired into, food deserts, inequity in learning, disparities in healthcare, substandard education, biased algorithms. 

She says that these disparities pose stress on each individual that does not equip us to deal with things like pandemics, and she looks forward to working with the new Administration to change it all.

Dr. Olajide Williams is the Founder and Board Chair of the Hip Hop Public Health.  He is Chief of Staff of the Department of Neurology at Columbia University, and Co-Director of Columbia University’s Wellness Center, and Professor of Neuroscience. 

As a believer in vaccines, he supports a rights-based approach to vaccine development and distribution. When you apply a human rights lens to shape the understanding of who is included and who is not.

He said we need to address the information bubbles that foster vaccine distrust through transparency and partnerships.

Dr. Bert Peterson, MD, FACS, is on a crusade to eliminate health care disparities in people of color. He considered himself a front-line practitioner of medicine and was involved indirectly in patient care. 

He started his presentation with COVID-19 bringing to light many of the disparities that practitioners have been talking about for years.

Where Do We Go From Here?

Dr. Williams stressed taking the public health official guidelines to heart – wearing a mask, washing your hands, social distancing. He also said keeping spaces ventilated is critical. 

Dr. Riley suggested getting a flu shot to speed up your treatment time and help doctors figure out quickly 

whether your diagnosis is the flu or COVID-19. 

Dr. Petersen suggested a slightly different approach. He urged all to support the candidates running to save the Affordable Care Act, which fully covers the flu vaccine. 

He stressed that this affects the quality of our day-to-day life. 

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