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Addressing Health Inequities in Communities of Color

July is National Minority Mental Health Awareness Month, which seeks to raise awareness about mental illness and its effects on racial and ethnic minority populations.

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), communities of color are less likely to receive diagnosis and treatment for their mental illness, have less access to mental health services and often receive a lower quality of mental health care. For instance, in 2017, HHS found that 41.5% of youth ages 12-17 received care for a major depressive episode, compared to just 35.1% of Black youth and 32.7% of Hispanic youth who received treatment for their condition. In the same year, 13.3% of youth ages 12-17 had at least one depressive episode, compared to higher rates among American Indian and Alaska Native youth at 16.3% and among Hispanic youth at 13.8%.

Moreover, experts have long documented a link between poverty levels and mental health status. Currently, 22% of Black Americans, 19% of Hispanics and 24% of American Indians experience poverty, compared with 9% of non-Hispanic whites.

Yet mental health is not the only health-related disparity in the United States, and the devastating impact of COVID-19 on communities of color also cannot be ignored. Preliminary survey data show that in the 131 predominantly Black counties across the nation, the COVID-19 infection rate is three times higher than in predominantly white counties, and the death rate is six times higher. While the population of Chicago is only 30% Black, 70% of COVID-19 related deaths come from that population. And in New York City, Blacks and Hispanics, who comprise 22% and 29% of the city’s population, respectively, make up 28% and 34% of COVID-19-related deaths.

These outcomes are alarming and devastating both to the economic viability and vitality of cities across the country and to the many families who mourn each loss. Moreover, they are representative of broader trends, as similar racial disparities exist in other disease areas, including Alzheimer’s disease, cancer and heart disease, along with mental health as previously mentioned.

While America's biopharmaceutical companies are working tirelessly to find medicines and vaccines to combat diseases like mental illness and COVID-19, we also recognize the need for evidence-based research and cross-sector partnerships to tackle other key questions and address health inequity in communities of color. Earlier this year, as part of our continuing work to address health inequalities, PhRMA member companies awarded $100,000 total in grants to fund four projects that will help improve health outcomes by addressing inequity in health care. You can learn about them here.

Better management of chronic conditions is essential to promote meaningful progress towards greater health equity. By harnessing the collective ideas and evidence-based research and data—from the government, universities, patient advocates, physicians and the biopharmaceutical industry—together, we can make inroads on addressing and improving health outcomes for everyone.

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