Racial discrimination could exacerbate COVID-19 for African Nova Scotians: advocates

Lack of specific health data and misinformation could exacerbate racial discrimination and disproportionately affect African Nova Scotians during the COVID-19 pandemic, advocates say.

“We need to have out-loud conversations about the impacts of anti-black racism, including in pandemics and health care,” OmiSoore Dryden, the James R. Johnston chair in Black Studies at Dalhousie University, told Information Morning Halifax on Thursday.

Dryden said racial discrimination will likely occur during the COVID-19 pandemic, referring to a statement made by the United Nations Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent.

“They specifically mentioned that during this pandemic we need to respond to the lack of representation in high-level decision-making, specific health risks among black communities, racial discrimination and implicit bias that may pervade and continue to pervade in pandemic policy-making,” she said.

History repeating itself

Dryden said this wouldn’t be the first time black communities are neglected during a worldwide crisis.

“It can feel frustrating to folks who map out the responses to pandemics and epidemics and then see some of the same mistakes in the past being made now,” she said.

“We saw with the AIDS epidemic that much of the interventions were slow to trickle out to marginal communities.”

Even now, early data from the United States shows African Americans have been more likely to die from COVID-19, highlighting disparities in health and inequalities in access to medical care, experts say.

Dryden said during the pandemic, governments must address the lack of representation in decision-making, specific health risks among black communities and racial discrimination.

Specific health data

To address health risks among black communities, Dryden said governments need to collect health data specific to people of African descent — data that isn’t now available.

“We actually don’t have a full picture,” she said. “What we have is a hope. We hope that what we are seeing in this health data actually applies to everyone.”

Sharon Davis-Murdoch is co-chair of the Health Association of African Canadians, a Nova Scotia-based group that promotes health in the black community. (Sharon Davis-Murdoch)

Sharon Davis-Murdoch, the co-president of the Health Association of African Canadians, said the association has been advocating for health data specific to race, ethnicity and language for 20 years.

“[With that information,] we would already know that we were at risk for COVID-19,” Davis-Murdoch told Information Morning on Thursday. “We would also know about the importance of protecting ourselves.”

More at risk

Dryden said during the COVID-19 pandemic, people have been advised to wear masks, but some black people may not feel safe doing so.

“These are important health concerns that we should follow and engage in,” she said.

“[But] we must also then be doing work to make sure that the anti-black racism and racial profiling doesn’t further put us at risk or stigmatize us or target us, whilst doing the very thing we’re supposed to be doing.”

Davis-Murdoch also said black communities need specific information on how to protect themselves during the COVID-19 pandemic because their culture has more intergenerational living and close greetings.

A look at the challenges some in Nova Scotia’s black communities when it comes to health care and this pandemic. 9:34

To share that information, Davis-Murdoch said the association has been hosting online video calls with experts.

“We wanted to provide an opportunity for people of African ancestry to be part of a call where they could receive accurate information,” she said.

“And also that they could see and hear from culturally competent, black health professionals who [are] working in the system.”

The association is planning more online video chats for the month of April.