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Sewell talks health disparities in virtual town hall

U.S. Rep. Terri Sewell, D-AL, hosted her second “TerriTalks” town hall via Facebook Live Wednesday alongside Senior Vice President for Medicine and Dean of the University of Alabama – Birmingham (UAB) Medical School Dr. Selwyn Vickers to discuss health disparities being exposed during the COVID-19 pandemic.

During the outbreak, the African-American community has been disproportionately impacted by the worst outcomes – throughout the South, African-Americans make up large percentages of COVID-19 deaths despite making up only small portions of the population.

“The reality is that these health disparities are staggering and are not surprising in some ways, as African-Americans have [always] faced worse health outcomes than white Americans,” Sewell said, noting that black people are considered a “high risk” population in many areas, including Alabama’s 7th Congressional District, home to the state’s largest African-American population.

For his part, Vickers, who recently penned an opinion piece on how defects in the healthcare system are exacerbating the current crisis, agreed with Sewell’s assessment.

“I think COVID-19…has clearly uncovered and highlighted the risk and the danger of a pandemic,” Vickers said, noting that many of the people facing the worst outcomes are managing their health issues properly and adhering to health guidelines, but are still predisposed to be at the highest risk.

Vickers noted that social determinants have a big impact on a person’s health and that, generally, those facing difficult social circumstances are also those suffering from chronic diseases such as diabetes, kidney disease and more.

Sewell wondered why, if the Black Belt is home to a large population of at-risk people, more testing hasn’t been deployed in the area.

Sadly, Vickers explained, the “healthcare world is largely driven by economics,” resulting in a system where those with higher incomes have better access to healthcare – those with limited access are worse off and are therefore even more at-risk under an emergency situation like the one currently being navigated.

“In this disease, if we don’t take care of our most vulnerable populations, everybody suffers,” Vickers said.

“We’re all interconnected,” Sewell added.

“This disease makes it totally clear that you can’t just take care of the well-to-do communities,” Vickers continued.

Both Sewell and Vickers advocated for “putting politics aside” and expanding Medicaid as a way of protecting Alabama’s most vulnerable populations.

“Let’s put aside the politics of it and let’s think about how it would help more Alabamians in this time of need,” Sewell said.