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Addressing Respiratory Health Disparities

COVID-19 isn’t the same for everyone. Some communities are more susceptible than others. Here is what healthcare is doing to bridge the gap.

The COVID-19 pandemic has disproportionately affected Black, Latinx, and Native American communities, further exposing longstanding health disparities in the United States.

The American Thoracic Society (ATS) defines respiratory heath disparities as “significant differences in respiratory health that are closely linked to racial ancestry, social, economic, and/or environmental differences.” Such disparities negatively affect people of color (POC).

Why disparities exist

Respiratory health disparities extend beyond healthcare access. Indeed, structural and social determinants of health (like racism) lead to unequal exposure to risk factors (like tobacco use and air pollution) for respiratory diseases, resulting in health disparities that are often worsened by accompanying inequities in screening and prevention efforts.

Achieving respiratory health equality for all people is an ideal the ATS strongly supports. The ATS promotes “environmental justice” through advocacy for comprehensive antismoking regulation, the right of all people to breathe clean air, and a safe and healthy working environment. Moreover, the ATS vigorously advocates for a diverse workforce and universal access to healthcare in the United States. Research and educating the public— two ATS priorities — are also key to eliminating health disparities.

What we are doing

To that end, the ATS and the American College of Chest Physicians created, providing expert information on COVID-19. An accompanying public awareness campaign focused on the 50 U.S. zip codes with the highest number of active COVID-19 cases, most of which are heavily populated by POC. Eliminating respiratory health disparities cannot be attained by the ATS alone, as this noble goal will require the combined efforts of multiple groups, including patient and community organizations. Yet, as a key stakeholder, the ATS understands the importance of working tirelessly in pursuit of respiratory health equality. For, in the words of Martin Luther King, “no work is insignificant. All labor that uplifts humanity has dignity and importance and should be undertaken with painstaking excellence.”

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