Systemic racism affects institutions across the country — and on Thursday, a virtual discussion highlighted its effects on health care.
UNC’s Honors Carolina and Phi Beta Kappa Society are taking action to promote awareness of racial injustice by hosting six virtual topical discussions and six hours of action designed to marshal knowledge in the fight against racism.
“The crisis we face operates on such a large scale that it’s easy sometimes to feel overwhelmed and inadequate as individuals, but if we each light a candle we will together raise a torch for justice,” Associate Dean for Honors Carolina James Leloudis said.
Thursday's talk was entitled "Systemic Racism & Health Disparities," and the corresponding hour of action will be held on Sept. 4. These discussions are open to anyone on campus, and between 400 and 500 people registered for the event, Assistant Dean for Honors Carolina Mitch Prinstein said in an email.
Geni Eng, a professor in the Gillings School of Global Public Health and co-director of the Cancer Health Disparities Postdoctoral Program, applies an anti-racism lens to her research, with a focus on enhancing health equity. At this discussion, Eng spoke about her work with the Greensboro Health Disparities Collaborative.
The Greensboro Health Disparities Collaborative’s mission is to “establish structures and processes that respond to empower and facilitate communities in defining and resolving issues related to disparities in health.”
Using a community-based participatory research approach, the Greensboro Health Disparities Collaborative conducted a study comparing the completion of treatment of breast and lung cancer for white and Black patients.
“We know that from the literature and from a lot of studies that white and African American lung and breast cancer patients initiate treatment later and they’re less apt to undergo completion of their treatment and so it results in worse treatment outcomes, including survival rates,” Eng said.
At the end of the study, the treatment completion rate for white patients was 89.5 percent and 88.4 percent for Black patients. This shows a decrease in the disparity from the beginning percentages of 87.3 percent of white patients completing treatment and 79.8 percent of Black patients.
But Eng said there are few longitudinal research studies that have systemic causes for less than optimal care for Black people. Few research students have shown effective solutions to eliminating this trend, Eng said.
But graduate students at UNC will be able to contribute to this research.
As Eng finished her presentation of the research, she discussed how the Gillings School of Global Public Health is offering more options for graduate students to study the racial disparities in public health with the recent addition of a concentration in health equity, social justice and human rights in the Master of Public Health degree.
“We feel that these three things are integral to public health, that it should be fused throughout public health, but it’s not, so we decided to add a concentration where you can really dive deeply into looking at the data and into actually developing strategies,” Eng said.
While this talk focused on systemic racism in the health field, this series will cover other subjects including systemic racism and education, criminal justice and voting.
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