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The health care system is stacked against black lives

June 4, 2020, 10:23 PM UTC

Readers—I’m not sure how to put this delicately or politely. There’s no way to put what’s happened in the past few weeks in delicate or polite terms. We know that racism exists in America. CEOs and entrepreneurs from multiple sectors have admitted and condemned that reality in recent weeks in the wake of protests calling out police brutality.

But the inequality we’ve seen manifest itself during these times is nothing new, especially when it comes to healthcare. The fact of the matter is that black and brown Americans have consistently, through no fault of their own, been sicker, had less access to health care, and died younger than their fellow white peers. Coronavirus has only underscored those realities.

Nationally, black Americans account for about 13% of the U.S. population but 24% of the coronavirus deaths for which racial or ethnic information was available as of June 2, according to The COVID Tracking Project.

That may help explain why, per the Pew Research Center, people of color are less willing to trust the medical community at large—it’s possible they just don’t think the healthcare industry has their back.

It’s an even broader issue, though. Bernard Tyson, the late CEO of Kaiser Permanente, was an evangelist of the concept that societal inequality has led to different health outcomes for communities of color—the social determinants of health.

Living in an environment where the air you breathe is poisoned or where poverty restricts your access to healthy food or where it takes hours to get to a hospital can cut years off of your life, according to this theory. It’s a complicated science but one worth considering in this moment.

On a different but related note—our annual Brainstorm Health conference is going digital this year on July 7 and 8. We’ve gathered a group that includes the CEOs of Johnson & Johnson, Amgen, Bristol-Myers Squibb, Baxter, Centene, and others. Check it all out here.

And on another relevant note: Many companies are speaking out against racial injustices right now. But how do they fare in their own workplaces? Black employees in the corporate world, we want to hear from you: Please submit your anonymous thoughts and anecdotes here.

Read on for the day’s news. And see you next week.

Sy Mukherjee
sayak.mukherjee@fortune.com
@the_sy_guy

DIGITAL HEALTH

Evidation Health tapped for AI-fueled COVID predictive algorithm. The U.S. government (specifically BARDA) is partnering with Evidation Health to create software that can, theoretically, help sniff out COVID-19 symptoms so that first responders can assess dicey situations that may make them susceptible to infection. This kind of data collection is complicated. Much of it is self-collected data that's transmitted via a wearable device and which relies on user input (and trust that such information remain de-identified). Here's what the acting director of BARDA, Gary Disbrow, had to say: "The ability to self-monitor and be informed of health status will empower Americans in their decisions to help slow the spread of this pandemic and improve health outcomes for people with COVID-19." (HIT Consultant)

INDICATIONS

The cancer drugs (and companies) to keep an eye on. The world's largest cancer conference went digital this year for obvious reasons. But the fight against one of the biggest killers of Americans doesn't stop even in the midst of a pandemic. Companies ranging from biopharma giants like Johnson & Johnson, Merck, and AstraZeneca to startups such as Allogene presented impressive (if early) data for cancer drugs—and some pretty cool science, to boot. See my roundup here. (Fortune)

Allergan renews efforts to track down harmed women following Fortune investigation. Following an investigation by my colleague Maria Aspan, the drug giant Allergan, maker of Botox (and now owned by AbbVie, which manufactures the best-selling drug in the world) is now launching a renewed campaign to alert patients to a recall of breast implant products linked to a form of cancer. As Maria explains, this is part of a larger problem when it comes to tracking issues with medical devices—especially with companies' own failures in tracking defective products and those affected by it. (Fortune)

THE BIG PICTURE

Protests raise new concerns for a second wave. Getting people to socially distance and wear masks was always going to be complicated in the midst of gradual reopening for society. With widespread protests against police brutality and racial injustice, things have gotten even more complicated. Mayors and governors across the country are urging that those who participate in these demonstrations—especially if they're not wearing masks and socially distancing—should consider getting tested for COVID-19. Of course, as we've said multiple times, that can be easier said than done. (Reuters)

REQUIRED READING

Everything to know about rubber bullets and their risksby David Z Morris

How to reopen businesses so it's safe for both employees and customersby Rachel King

AstraZeneca agrees to provide 1.3 billion doses of its coronavirus vaccine to developing nations at costby Jeremy Kahn

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