COVID-19 and the US response: Accelerating health inequities

Nneoma E. Okonkwo, Ugochi T. Aguwa, Minyoung Jang, Iman A. Barré, Kathleen R. Page, Patrick S. Sullivan, Chris Beyrer, Stefan Baral

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


Health inequities have long defined health and the healthcare system in the USA. The clinical and research capacity across the USA is unparalleled, yet compared to other high and even some middle-income countries, the average health indicators of the population remain suboptimal in 2020, a finding at least in part explained by inequity in healthcare access. In this context, COVID-19 has rapidly emerged as a major threat to the public's health. While it was initially thought that severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 would be the great equaliser as it would not discriminate, it is clear that COVID-19 incidence and mortality have rapidly reinforced health disparities drawn by historical and contemporary inequities. Here, we synthesise the data highlighting specific risks among particular marginalised and under-resourced communities including those in jails, prisons and detention centers, immigrants and the undocumented, people with disabilities and people experiencing homelessness across the USA. The drivers of these disparities are pervasive structural risks including limited access to preventive services, inability to comply with physical distancing recommendations, underlying health disparities and intersecting stigmas particularly affecting racial and ethnic minorities across the country, including African Americans, Latinx Americans and Native Americans. Advancing the COVID-19 response, saving lives and restarting the economy necessitate rapidly addressing these inequities rather than ignoring and even reinforcing them.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)176-179
Number of pages4
JournalBMJ Evidence-Based Medicine
Issue number4
StatePublished - Aug 1 2021


  • delivery of healthcare
  • healthcare quality, access, and evaluation
  • infectious disease medicine
  • public health
  • socioeconomic factors

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine(all)


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