The Health Equity Fight
I was asked to write about something I’m passionate about in the field of Public Health. So many things came to my mind. As a Community Health Worker Instructor and Workforce Developer, Chronic Disease Educator, a former HIV Director, and former Tuberculosis Policy & Procedure Writer, I’ve done so much in my decade-long public health career, and I’ve been passionate about it all. However when I look at what the correlation of my passions were, it boils down to health equity.
So health equity …. let’s talk about it.
Lately, as I work with organizations, sit on Zooms calls for coalition and board meetings, I ponder this: As Public Health professionals, are we really working towards health equity, or has it just become yet another buzz word in society?
When I was a newbie entering the field of public health from my previous career of law, I remember being so stumped when I learned about health disparities and who they effected ….come to learn, it was me and those that look like me. Talk about privilege- when you haven’t felt the effects of such things and don't even know it has been happening to you.
It was hard for me to have this realization, being born in a country like the U.S. One day during my first year of Public Health, in conversation with a colleague, I asked, “How could health disparities exist in this country? Why doesn’t everyone have access to what they need to be healthy?”
This person and I had developed rapport by this point, so they were very candid with me. Their response was simple: “Alisa we would be out of jobs if these things didn’t exist”.
I was stunned to say the least at this response, and the fact that the person said it without hesitation, as if it were just a known fact in our field still haunts me 10 yrs. later
Some people in the field talk about health equity as if it’s a social construct. Some make it their tagline on LinkedIn to gain followers and social status to enhance their careers. And some are in the fight daily within their respective jobs to implement health equity.
Currently in Nevada (where I live), health policy folks, lobbyists, advocates, program managers, executive directors, etc. are fighting against the repealing of health equity bills that we all fought so hard to get passed two years ago.
It’s hard to believe that, in 2023, anyone would not want there to be health equity in their state. After all, it does end up effecting and affecting everyone. Have we not learned this from the recent pandemic?
For some people, the fight for health equity looks like sitting on boards where they are the only ones representing the voice of whole communities. For some, it's developing programming for marginalized communities and hiring representation from those communities. For some, it's working behind the scenes in epidemiology or informatics to ensure that data are accurate and reflective of communities. And for some, it's running programming and writing grants to ensure marginalized communities get funding that usually goes elsewhere. Health equity means something. It means something to people who get treated unfairly at doctor’s offices. It means something to people who are denied COVID vaccines. It means something to people whose loved ones died from lack of access during the pandemic. It should mean something to everyone.
As we capitalize on the ideal of public health now, where are the communities that have lack of access to medicine, health education, and simple health insurance?
Public Health may be a profession to us, but it’s people's lives at stake.
Now ask yourself, what does your fight for health equity look like, and what will it look like going forward?
Alisa N. Howard
Owner of Minority Health Consultants