Confronting racism in medicine: A call for equity and justice in healthcare

By Esther Muhozi
On 3 April 2024 at 12:25

Despite concerted efforts to combat racism, it insidiously persists in all facets of society, including healthcare, as vividly illustrated by the experience of Jazmin Evans. This Temple University student’s ordeal with a racially biased organ test underscores the deep-seated issues of systemic racism that thwart our journey towards equality.

The case, reported by WIS10 NEWS, sheds light not just on individual suffering but on the broader, disturbing reality of racial inequity within healthcare that continues to prevail.

The specific instance of racial bias in healthcare, as seen in Evans’ story, is not an isolated phenomenon.

“I remember just reading that letter over and over again,” said Evans, 29, of Philadelphia, who shared the notice in a TikTok video to educate other patients. “How could this happen?”

It is part of a longstanding pattern of disparities where Black Americans disproportionately face higher risks of conditions like kidney failure.

The controversy centers around the use of a flawed eGFR calculation that, based on unfounded racial assumptions, inaccurately overestimated kidney function in Black patients. This significant error delayed critical diagnoses and treatments, and unjustly extended waiting periods for organ transplants for many Black patients.

The correction of over 14,000 Black kidney transplant candidates’ wait times by the United Network for Organ Sharing is an unprecedented attempt to ameliorate past wrongs. Yet, it also prompts a deeper reflection on the extent of racial bias in medical diagnostics and treatments across the board.

The sluggish pace at which these racial biases are being addressed is alarming. Although recent measures to eliminate race from medical algorithms and risk assessments are steps in the right direction, they also highlight the systemic nature of the problem. The reliance on race-based algorithms underscores a broader issue of institutional practices rooted in racism that can have widespread detrimental effects on minority patients.

The situation calls for a comprehensive review and overhaul of medical practices that incorporate race as a factor. The healthcare industry and regulatory authorities must ensure that medical care and diagnostics are based on scientific evidence and the individual health requirements of patients, not on antiquated and harmful racial stereotypes.

"Health equity scholars have been raising alarm bells about the way race has been misused in clinical algorithms for decades,” said Dr. Michelle Morse, New York City’s chief medical officer.

The efforts to rectify the injustices faced by Black kidney transplant candidates, while laudable, underscore the grim reality that racism remains entrenched in many aspects of our lives, despite ongoing efforts to eradicate it.

This scenario emphasizes the urgent need for continued action against racism in healthcare. The fight for a truly equitable healthcare system, where no person’s health is jeopardized by systemic biases, is far from over.

As the narrative around the eGFR recalculations shows, addressing health inequities faced by Black individuals and other minorities is not only a matter of fairness but also a critical, achievable goal.

It is high time for sweeping reforms to address and prevent such inequities from arising in the future.