Association of Latino/as/x Motivating Action (ALMA) and AIDS Foundation Chicago (AFC) hosted a "COVID-19 Grand RoundsSystemic Racism and Health Disparities: The Impact of COVID-19 on Latino/a/x populations" virtual presentation July 6.
AFC Prevention Advocacy and Gay Men's Health Senior Director Jim Pickett moderated the event. Panelists included Emory University School of Medicine Infectious Disease Division Assistant Professor of Medicine Dr. Valeria D. Cantos as well as Emory University School of Medicine and Rollins School of Public Health Infectious Disease Division Assistant Professor of Medicine and Global Health Dr. Paulina A. Rebolledo.
Cantos' research is centered on HIV prevention in the Latino/a/x community while Rebolledo's focus is on vaccine-preventable diseases and the availability of infectious disease diagnostics in resource-limited populations.
Their presentation focused on the various ways Latino/a/x communities in the United States have experienced COVID-19 including health equity challenges and disparities; higher risk of COVID-19 positive diagnoses due to structural, racial and economic factors and politics and policies negatively affecting them. Potential solutions to achieve health equity for Latino/a/x people were also discussed.
Rebolledo spoke about why she and published studies use Hispanic, Latino and Latinx interchangeably and the origins of each word. She said that Hispanic people are 19 percent of the population but they account for 35 percent of all COVID-19 cases and 38 percent of the deaths which translates to two times the rate of hospitalization/deaths than white, non-Hispanic people. Rebolledo added that there was a high cost burden among Latino/a/x households.
In terms of why Latino/a/x communities have been disproportionately impacted by COVID-19, Rebolledo pointed to the multigenerational nature of Latino/a/x families where they more often live together across a wide range of age groups, the jobs they have that were considered essential services that could not be done from home and also lacked basic protections including social distancing and personal protective equipment as well as health and healthcare systems "systemic barriers and racism and discrimination against a lot of our communities."
Cantos spoke about the broader social and structural factors that have led to increased vulnerability to COVID-19 in Latino/a/x communities including immigration policies and the fear of deportation that cause Latino/a/x people to avoid getting tested and vaccinated. She added that many Latino/a/x people do not know these services are free and that they will not be reported to immigration authorities. Cantos said that systemic racism is the overarching issue for everything that negatively impacts the Latino/a/x community, including COVID-19.
Regarding the COVID-19 vaccine trials, Cantos said that her and Rebolledo's mission as co-investigators at the Emory Ponce de Leon Center clinical research site was to "increase representation of Latino populations in clinical trials, increase representation of the Latino community in our work that I think resulted in our site to be one with the highest number of Black and Latino participation in clinical trials."
Why did we care so much about including these communities in clinical trials?" said Cantos. "We wanted to test the vaccines in the populations where it was impacting them the most … For us it was a personal and professional call to make ourselves visible in the area of research because as we know clinical trials have historically lacked inclusion of racial and ethnic minority groups."
As for what can be done to improve things for Latino/a/x people in the healthcare realm; Rebolledo said that hiring Latino/a/x staff, including them in educational and public health strategies and clearly communicating that their health information will not be shared with immigration authorities.
Both ALMA Board President Julio Rodriguez and Pickett promoted ALMA's new short film Seguimos Aqui, which is about four LGBTQ+-identifying Latino/a/x Chicagoans as they navigated the COVID-19 pandemic. The free premiere screening and reception is Chicago History Museum's OUT at CHM + ALMA event this year and will take place Thursday, July 22, 7-9 p.m.