BLACK DEATH

Part 3
African American Distrust

As COVID-19 continues to disproportionately affect African Americans in the United States, the black community’s deep-rooted distrust of the government and healthcare system has once again been brought to the forefront.

It wasn’t long ago that African Americans – specifically, black men – were used as test subjects in America. The most infamous example was the Tuskegee Study of Untreated Syphilis in the Negro Male, which was conducted for 40 years between 1932 – 1972.

In 1932, the Public Health Service, working with the Tuskegee Institute, began a study to record the natural history of syphilis in hopes of justifying treatment programs for blacks. It was called the “Tuskegee Study of Untreated Syphilis in the Negro Male.”

The study initially involved 600 black men – 399 with syphilis, 201 who did not have the disease. The study was conducted without the benefit of patients’ informed consent. Researchers told the men they were being treated for “bad blood,” a local term used to describe several ailments, including syphilis, anemia, and fatigue. In truth, they did not receive the proper treatment needed to cure their illness. In exchange for taking part in the study, the men received free medical exams, free meals, and burial insurance. Although originally projected to last 6 months, the study actually went on for 40 years.

The experiment left a stain on America for decades after, so much so that 25 years later, former President Bill Clinton apologized to black people affected by the experiment on behalf of the United States.

The Tuskegee experiment is one of several reasons that the black community lacks trust in the government and the healthcare system. And during a global pandemic, a time where citizens are turning to their nation’s leadership for guidance and solutions, the black community continues to struggle putting its faith in those at the highest levels of executive power. 

While underlying health concerns and socioeconomic disadvantages caused by systemic racism are playing key roles in the black community being disproportionately affected by COVID-19, part of it comes back to mistrust and misinformation. 

In short, the black community is not accustomed to relying on the government for information or guidance, considering America’s historical precedent of devaluing the African American population.

Consequently, when the novel coronavirus began to take shape in America, a large portion of the black community didn’t believe the illness was real or that it could affect black people, so much so that actor Idris Elba – who contracted the virus – created a PSA for those that didn’t believe it could affect black people.

Clearly, Elba was right: This disease does not discriminate. 

And the theories that black people can’t contract it were indeed incorrect.

However, is it possible that Elba – a native of London, England – doesn’t understand just how much the black community’s trust in the government has been shaken over the past century?

Consider this: Just weeks ago, Vice President Mike Pence announced that the government would begin a 3,000-person study to test the drug hydroxychloroquine and its effectiveness in treating COVID-19. 

The drug is commonly used to treat malaria but it has not proven to be successful in treating the novel coronavirus. 

In fact, on Friday, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration warned against the use of the drug due to its potentially fatal side-effects.

“Today, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration issued a Drug Safety Communication regarding known side effects of hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine, including serious and potentially life-threatening heart rhythm problems, that have been reported with their use for the treatment or prevention of COVID-19, for which they are not approved by the FDA.” – FDA Press Release

Still, President Donald Trump has continued to tout the drug as a potential cure to COVID-19, even though director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Dr. Anthony Fauci and Coronavirus Response Coordinator Dr. Deborah Birx have warned against relying on the drug.

Going back to the 3,000-person trial, it will be held at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit, Michigan. 

According to the United States Census Bureau, Detroit is 78.6 percent African American.

Black people have been conditioned not to trust the government or healthcare system, and this mistrust is more concerning today than ever, considering both are tasked with attempting to guide the country through a pandemic the likes of which America hasn’t seen.

Furthermore, according to the Office of Minority Health – a branch of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services – black people in America are underinsured, meaning they have less interaction with and less access to adequate healthcare.

In 2017, 55.5 percent of non-Hispanic blacks in comparison to 75.4 percent of non-Hispanic whites used private health insurance. Also in 2017, 43.9 percent of non-Hispanic blacks in comparison to 33.7 percent of non-Hispanic whites relied on Medicaid or public health insurance. Finally, 9.9 percent of non-Hispanic blacks in comparison to 5.9 percent of non-Hispanic whites were uninsured.

We’ve spent the first three weeks of the BLACK DEATH Series analyzing why the novel coronavirus is disproportionately affecting the black community. We will spend the final weeks of the series analyzing ways that the black community can overcome its underlying health issues, socioeconomic and racial barriers, and its distrust of the government and healthcare system.