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Data and Technology Can Help Us Make Progress on COVID Inequities

Topic: Data and Technology Can Help Us Make Progress on COVID Inequities

The COVID-19 pandemic is the latest chapter in the “Tale of Two Health Systems” saga that has played out in the U.S. during every public health crisis dating back centuries. The pandemic has disproportionately devastated communities of color, proving that we can no longer ignore the need to address health inequities in a real way. This threat is so existential in nature that according to a recent CDC study, African Americans lost 2.7 years of life expectancy while Latinx individuals lost nearly two years of life expectancy.

To those of us who have dedicated our careers to dismantling these inequities, the deep impact of COVID-19 on communities of color was not a surprise. Throughout our country’s history, the same disadvantaged groups suffer the most during natural disasters, wars, pandemics and other major crises. And, when it comes to pandemics, we have never been successful in taking what we’ve learned to ensure resources reach those in greatest need. So, how do we achieve an equitable, proactive response when there’s not an equitable foundation, blueprint or clear starting point?

Early on in the pandemic, the public health community realized that data availability—or the lack thereof—was a key problem. Although there have historically been challenges in data collection and reporting in these communities, the COVID-19 pandemic provides an opportunity to turn the tide for our most vulnerable. As a nation, we must prioritize and invest in the role of data and technology in closing the gap of disparities in outcomes and in driving equitable access to testing, vaccines and delivery of health services.

Since its inception, the Satcher Health Leadership Institute (SHLI) at Morehouse School of Medicine in Atlanta has been a trailblazer in the health equity space. As we began exploring ways to overcome the data problem, we partnered with the CDC Foundation to bring diverse leaders to the table to form the Health Equity Task Force. We then invited, Gilead Sciences and the Annie E. Casey Foundation to the table to help us understand what health equity data are already being collected and to identify the data gaps that currently exist.

Through this cross-sector collaborative process, we learned that if we can collect and clearly present the data, we can provide the basis for driving the response toward the areas in most need. The Health Equity Tracker Project was created as a way to do just that. During the last eight months, a team of fellows, including Google software engineers, product managers, UX researchers and designers, data analysts and more have been working with SHLI to identify and analyze quality public data sources with the goal of creating an easy-to-use, public facing data platform that displays and contextualizes health disparities communities of color face throughout the U.S.

Topic Discussed: Data and Technology Can Help Us Make Progress on COVID Inequities

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