In Honor of the Life and Legacy Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
“Of all the forms of inequality, injustice in health[care] is the most shocking and the most inhuman,” Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. statement to the press in March 1966. Dr. King would go on to reiterate this in a speech at the Second National Convention of the Medical Committee for Human Rights (MCHR). The MCHR was formed in 1964, primarily to advocate for health equity and the desegregation of the American healthcare system, in response to the work of Dr. King. They were described as “the health arm of the civil rights movement and the civil rights arm of the health profession.”
Despite the work of Rev. Dr. King and the MCHR, for the desegregation of care, access, and opportunity, we are still fighting for health equity.
It is 2023, and while the American healthcare system is no longer formally segregated, the impacts of de facto segregation remain. Black Maternal and Infant Mortality rates are much higher in the U.S. than all its comparable “developed’ world counterparts. Direct lines have been drawn to poorer health outcomes due to issues like teaching healthcare workers that Black/African Americans feel pain less strongly than white persons, and dismissing, neglecting, and silencing Black/African American persons in the healthcare system trying to ask for better care.
In the baselines of tests that are used for healthcare, Black/African Americans experience segregation again, because the designs inadequately account for Black/African Americans. A 2022 study found that “Black men had a […] 19% higher mortality rate than [w]hite men [from cancer] overall,” with a “2-fold higher risk of death from prostate cancer [than white men].” Worse, Black women had a 41% higher rate of dying from breast cancer than white women—despite lower or similar rates of having the disease. The cost and ease of accessing primary health care, diagnostic, and treatment resources, are contributors to the mortality rates of these diseases—contributors that disproportionately harm Black/African Americans.
As we celebrate the life and legacy in honor of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Black Health calls on our partners, and allies to help us march ever nearer, to closing the gap in health equity Black/African-American communities face. Through pushing for proactive responses to diabetes trends nationally, and strategic policies addressing breast cancer, prostate cancer, mental illness and the more subtle issues in healthcare like bias in technology, and medical education, we can finally complete Dr. King’s work to desegregate health care.
It is a shocking and most inhuman injustice to do otherwise right now. As Rev. Dr. King said, “We have come to […] remind America of the fierce urgency of now.”