Saturday, October 11, 2014

Implicit racism in Ebola tragedy? Read Wright and think

Nowai Korkoya, mother of Ebola patient
Thomas Eric Duncan with Rev. Jackson
I have been processing information regarding the medical care of Thomas Eric Duncan. Duncan, the first patient in the United States diagnosed with Ebola, died at a Dallas, Texas, Presbyterian hospital on October 8. I am ruminating what I know of his case and contemplating how subconscious racism or racial bias may have played a role in his treatment.

Is it probable or merely possible that the hospital failed to diagnose the Liberian correctly because he was Black and uninsured?

Other activists, bloggers, and journalists sensitive to the effects of racism on America and the world have already scrutinized his treatment as well as how various media companies have reported on the Ebola crisis and concluded that more than likely both racial bias and medical capitalism played a negative role in how the hospital treated Duncan and how America has approached the Ebola crisis.

Early in Duncan's case, the hospital asserted it was treating Duncan as best its staff could and attributed possible missteps to flaws in the electronic health records system. Duncan's family, however, felt otherwise. Speaking out, they said they believed the hospital might have been treating Duncan differently because he was African.

Since his death, the family's released his medical records that show Duncan definitely told hospital staff he had recently arrived from Liberia, and staff documented that he had a 103 degree fever, but the hospital sent him home anyway. Since the records release, the hospital has said it will review its procedures.

I'm aware of studies showing that "racial bias skews medical diagnoses of African-American patients." Nonetheless, when I learned, prior to Duncan's death, that the family had called in Rev. Jesse Jackson, fearing Duncan would not receive the treatment he needed, I thought maybe they were paranoid. My logic was surely medical professionals of any racial background would understand an Ebola epidemic in the U.S.A. would be disastrous for everyone and that medical professionals would know to be cautious with sick patients coming from Ebola-stricken countries.

I think carefully before I call an action or policy "racist," but when I discovered that Duncan, once diagnosed, had not immediately been given the experimental drug credited with curing a White doctor who contracted Ebola in Africa and was flown to the U.S. for treatment, I began to think perhaps the family was not overreacting.

Now that I've read "The Implicit Racism in Ebola Tragedy," an opinion piece by Robin Wright at CNN, I'm beginning to think calling out racism on the handling of Ebola is not as crazy as it sounds. Citing examples from African children in Dallas who have no connection to Duncan being called "Ebola kids" to how the media is resurrecting old tropes of Africa as "dark continent," Wright's essay should give us all pause. Eventually, the U.S.A. will have to deal with some kind of communicable disease and neglecting to treat people adequately because they are Black or Brown and poor will only worsen the situation.

So, I highly recommend you read what Wright has to say. If you're the kind of person who believes racism no longer exists at the instituional level, I hope you can set aside that assumption and really give what she's saying deep thought.

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