Source: New York TimesBy Hanna Kozlowska
October 21, 2014
Some say that when the deadly Ebola virus traveled from West Africa to the United States, it brought out worrying signs of underlying racism in the American health care system, media coverage, politics and even on United States streets.
Last week, Josephus Weeks, the nephew of Thomas Eric Duncan, the Liberian man who contracted Ebola in his country and died of the disease on a trip to the United States, wrote an op-ed for The Dallas Morning News, in which he blames his uncle’s death on the health care system and prejudice.
Mr. Weeks writes that his uncle came to the Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas with a high fever and stomach pain, admitting that he had recently been to Liberia. “But he was a man of color with no health insurance and no means to pay for treatment, so within hours he was released with some antibiotics and Tylenol,” Mr. Weeks says.
Why was he sent back home? That, Mr. Weeks says, is the “biggest unanswered question” about Mr. Duncan’s death. “Thomas Eric Duncan was a victim of a broken system,” Mr. Weeks writes.
Charles D. Ellison at The Root also asks whether Mr. Duncan was initially turned away because he was black and uninsured. “Few want to touch the pointy eggshells of race and class in the frantic discussion over Ebola as it enters the United States,” Mr. Ellison says.
He writes that when white American aid doctors, as well as an NBC cameraman, showed signs of the virus, they were “rushed” back to the United States. “But it’s been rough going for black Ebola sufferers — even when one manages to sneak into the U.S. and access one of the most advanced health care systems in the world.”
Experts told Mr. Ellison that if Mr. Duncan was turned away because of his nationality and lack of insurance, it wouldn’t be inconsistent with what they’ve been observing in the United States health care system.
Citing research about disparities in standards of health care based on race, Dr. Kavita Patel of the Brookings Institution and managing director of clinical transformation at the Engelberg Center for Health Care Reform told Mr. Ellison that this is a known, and documented, phenomenon: “We know that African Americans get different care — but no one wants to admit that. We know that gaps and disparities do exist.”