By Paul Stainker Jr.
On March 24, the Rowan Division of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) hosted a meeting titled “COVID-19, Africa and the Diaspora.” It featured several speakers to talk about COVID-19’s disproportionate effects on the African population. The event was co-sponsored by Rowan’s international studies and Africana studies.
Dr. Chanelle Rose opened up the meeting with a short brief on COVID-19 and how it has affected African people worldwide.
“COVID-19 has definitely put a new spotlight on many of the healthcare disparities and socioeconomic challenges facing Africans and African descended people across the globe,” Rose said. “The pandemic has exposed the structural inequalities that exist worldwide. It has laid bare how inequality in the areas of gender, racial, health, education, digital and other areas has worsened health and socioeconomic outcomes in Africa and the African diaspora.”
Lauren Anderson, a professor in the international and Africana studies program at Rowan, led by defining the social and economic response from the United Nations (UN) to our current pandemic context.
“There’s the World Health Organization; their job is to handle the health side of things, vaccines and diagnostics,” Anderson said. “The other prong of the UN response was OCHA [Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs]. OCHA’s mission was to help countries that were really mired in conflict, those for which there was a true humanitarian emergency; you think of countries without functional governments or countries with large humanitarian populations with needs.”
She also mentioned the secretary-general’s fund, which started to support social and economic responses. The fund works in 80 countries around the world of varying sizes to help their financial status.
Dr. Nicole Vaughn, a Rowan public health and wellness program professor, spoke next, talking about some of the challenges of Black communities in the U.S. related to COVID-19 testing, diagnoses, vaccines and recovery.
“Many times, minoritized and socially disadvantaged populations have health disparities…insurance coverage, access to care, use of that care as well as quality care. We have disparities, particularly in gender, in age, in setting [and] in racial and ethnic background,” Vaughn said.
She continued on the healthcare track by talking about the Black healthcare disparities right here in America. According to Vaughn, one in 10 Black Americans are uninsured, and because of that statistic, many feared seeking care due to uncertainty around what was and wasn’t insured during a COVID-19-related hospital visit. She also said that Black Americans have died at 1.4 times the rate of their white counterparts within the U.S.
Vaughn ended by saying that since the Biden administration has come in, there’s been a huge push to ensure transparency and information on where to get vaccines. She also warned against misinformation by offering sources to find vaccine opportunities and scheduling them.
Bryn Mawr College history and Africana studies professor Kalala Ngalamulume followed Vaughn and spoke about COVID-19 and Africa’s exceptionalism.
“At the beginning, the expectation was that Africa would experience a kind of tsunami because of poverty levels, underdevelopment, corruption in the government and underfunded healthcare systems,” said Ngalamulume. “But by June of last year , given the low mortality rate and low cases [of COVID-19], scholars began to see this as an anomaly; how could this be possible?”
Ngalamulume explained that Africa has a large, young population with a median age of 19, which he said helps explain a kind of “resistance” to the virus. He ended by speaking about vaccines and the government’s attempt to help people with vaccines.
“The governments are now in the process of convincing the population to accept the vaccine,” he said.