Anti-Black racism seeps into every corner of society—including the field of medicine. The longer members of the medical system deny this fact, the more Black Canadian lives are placed at risk. In the aftermath of the murder of George Floyd, Anti-Black racism was declared a public health crisis by the Toronto Board of Health. Simultaneously, several Ontario public health institutions acknowledged race as a significant factor in the health disparities between various patients.
Lack of Representation
In 2017, the United Nations expressed extreme worry for what they considered structural racism embedded at the heart of many Canadian institutions. Black people must see themselves represented in healthcare, yet Canada’s current Black representation is meagre. In Canada, only 2.3 percent of practising doctors are Black. As a result, many Black people have a mistrust of the healthcare system. This isn’t surprising when so many of them have been the target of racist attitudes and microaggressions, along with more overt forms of discrimination.
The Myth Of “Free Healthcare”
Health Canada loves to tout our world-renowned health care system offering free access to all Canadians. But for Black Canadians, this couldn’t be further from the truth. It’s well-documented that Black people face longer ER wait times, for example. If they arrive in a state of crisis, it’s often assumed that they’re looking for drugs. And Black women are more likely to wait until a chronic illness is at a late stage before seeing their family doctor.
With sickle-cell anemia, it is standard practice to administer drugs within a half-hour of arriving, as delaying treatment can have serious consequences. And yet, Black patients with the disease report higher levels of poor treatment than White patients. Moreover, Black patients who mention they are in pain are less likely to have their pain addressed quickly than their White counterparts.
Healthcare That Is Culturally-Appropriate
Black adults have health challenges that are unique to their race. For example, Black people have a higher risk of developing diabetes, sickle-cell disease, and cancer than their white counterparts. And where the U.S. collects data about the heightened risks that Black people may face due to race, Canada’s track record in collecting race-based data is lacking. This has left many Black people unsure and anxious about their risk level around certain inheritable diseases, which can have devastating consequences. Early intervention is key to a successful health outcome. This is yet another way that the Canadian health care system has failed the Black community.
Rooting Out Unconscious Bias
The College of Family Physicians of Canada has formed an accountability task force to uncover and address the unconscious bias lurking within the health system. The program provides training and education for healthcare professionals with the aim of social accountability. The task force is also engaged in advocacy for groups deemed “vulnerable.”
The Black community’s mistrust of the Canadian health system often means ignoring symptoms, leading to a negative outcome. This discriminatory behaviour is a violation of human rights, and it has got to stop.
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