Public health groups demand province collect race-based coronavirus data

The nearly 200 groups have signed an open letter arguing that race is critical to understanding inequalities within the health care system

Nearly 200 public health, legal and equity-seeking organizations are demanding the province collect race-based coronavirus data in an open letter addressed to Premier Doug Ford, health minister Christine Elliott and the Ontario’s chief medical officer David Williams.

Currently, Ontario is not tracking race and socio-demographic information related to COVID-19 cases.

“Right now we consider our main risk groups [to be] the elderly, those with other co-morbidities, as well as other health conditions that would reduce their immune status,” said Williams, during the province’s daily press briefing on April 10. “Those are priorities to us, regardless of race, ethnicity or other backgrounds. They’re equally important to us.”

He noted that the World Health Organization (WHO) has not indicated that certain racial groups have greater risk factors.

But public health groups believe that collecting race-based data is critical to understand the inequalities within the health care system and where resources should be distributed.

“The World Health Organization says ‘to develop effective prevention strategies, countries need to improve their information.’ We cannot address what we cannot measure,” the letter states. “Collecting and analyzing data allows system to measure differential experiences, account for disparities and develop evidence-based interventions.”

The 190 groups that signed the letter include the Alliance for Healthier Communities, Aboriginal Legal Services, Black Health Alliance, FoodShare Toronto and Toronto Overdose Prevention Society.  

Indigenous populations, Black people, LGBTQ, people living with disabilities and people who live in poverty already lack access the same access to health care in Ontario compared to non-marginalized groups, the letter states, and therefore are potentially at a greater risk for COVID-19.

“All sectors must be mandated to immediately collect data that will allow us to understand who this pandemic impacts and which pathways must be interrupted to stop its escalation,” the letter reads. “We will not address population health inequities and effectively contain COVID-19 without data that illuminates gaps to care in our system.”

In addition, the groups also demand prioritizing personal protection equipment (PPE), testing and funding for health services that provide for populations facing discrimination and ensuring that diverse and racialized voices are involved in provincial and regional decision-making.  

When asked in the press briefing how the province will know where to allocate coronavirus resources if the province was not collecting race-based data, Williams stated that their focus was on on “case contact management.” If person is found positive, the province instead tracks who they were in contact with and their geographic region rather than targeting entire groups.

In the United States, there is early evidence that African Americans are disproportionately being affected by the pandemic. According to a Reuters report, African Americans are more likely to die from coronavirus than any other group in the U.S.


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