One problem I know we can solve? Our representation in medical research
By Tom Joyner
I love success stories, I root for the underdog, and I’m all about doing what it takes to get ahead.
Most of my mentors have had humble beginnings and have worked hard to achieve great things. They were committed to uplifting and making a change for the better for the people and communities that have been left behind. I’ve tried hard to emulate these people, and I’ve made it my life’s work to super-serve our community by tackling every issue, every policy, every news story, every triumph and every tragedy with seven words, “What does this mean for Black people?”
When I look at the COVID-19 pandemic, and its disproportionate impact on Black people, here is what I know.
This pandemic has highlighted that our community often gets the short end of the stick when it comes to our health. Black Americans are becoming infected with the coronavirus at a rate three times that of White Americans and are twice as likely to die from the virus.
What’s driving these grim statistics? Well, it’s complicated – and a lot of it is rooted in systemic racism. Things like lack of access to health care, economic factors, and racial discrimination in clinical settings all play a role. Black Americans have more chronic conditions like hypertension, diabetes, cardiovascular disease than White Americans, increasing our likelihood of death from COVID-19. Black Americans are more likely to work in ‘essential’ roles, increasing our exposure to the virus. The list goes on.
The bottom line is that the health system doesn’t always work for us–and our community has felt the pain of this inequity well before the pandemic. Consider that the health impacts of racism date back to the 16th century – and the genetic makeup of Black people has been negatively affected by our traumatic beginnings in this country, starting with the horrific conditions experienced as Africans were transported to slavery during the Trans-Atlantic Middle Passage.
And when it comes to medical research, let’s face it, history has not been our side. I’m from Tuskegee, Alabama where a government experiment known as the Tuskegee study used poor Black men to test ways to treat Syphilis from 1932 to 1972.
We cannot change the past. But we can approach the present armed with knowledge, common sense, science and faith recognizing that we have to take action, now. We have enough stacked against us, and if there is a way for us to actively have a stake in improving a dire situation, I say let’s take it.
One problem I know we can solve? Our representation in medical research. Black Americans and Latinos make up 30% of the U.S. population, but account for less than 10% of participants in genetic studies. For example, consider that for 24 of the 31 cancer drugs approved in the past three years, less than 5% of the research subjects were Black (Black Americans make up 13% of the U.S. population). Black Americans have been left out of medical research for a number of reasons. This lack of representation is a big problem, because researchers in the medical community don’t have the full picture of how prevention, treatments, and medications will work for us–and that impacts health outcomes for Black patients.
That’s why the All of Us Research Program, from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), is so important. I am proud to partner with All of Us, a program that was designed specifically to close those racial gaps in medical research. All of Us is building a repository of health information that represents everyone. Participants join the program and contribute their health information in different forms, answering surveys, sharing their health records, or giving samples. Researchers can take that data and apply it to a multitude of different studies to learn more about how to deliver the best care and treatments that will work for all different types of people. The program–one of the most diverse health research programs ever–has more than 350,000 participants so far, more than 50% of whom are people of color. The goal is to reach one million or more participants, but we need your help to get there!
If you’re unwilling to be defined by a painful past and present when it comes to Black health, join All of Us at JoinAllofUs.org/newsone.