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Health Disparities: What They Mean and Why They Matter

The COVID-19 crisis has brought to light the issue of health disparities. This article from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) defines health disparities as “preventable differences in the burden of disease, injury, violence, or opportunities to achieve optimal health that are experienced by socially disadvantaged populations.” In other words, health disparities mean that one group of people are more affected by a health problem than other groups of people.

In the United States, people who are not white are more likely than white people to get COVID-19. People of color also have a greater chance of dying from COVID-19 after getting it. In Mississippi, about sixty percent of the population is white and a little less than 38% is African American. According to the Mississippi State Department of Health, as of April 18, 4,274 Mississippians have been diagnosed with COVID-19. Of those, 2,203 are black or African American, 1,401 are white, 337 are other ethnicities and 327 cases are not yet categorized. One hundred black Mississippians, 57 white Mississippians and one Mississippian of another ethnicity have died.

So, in Mississippi, there is a health disparity because COVID-19 has an overall more devastating impact on black or African American citizens than white citizens. The same may be true for other groups of non-white people; we do not yet have enough information to know.

There are no quick fixes for health disparities, but these are some places to start:

  • Acknowledge that there are many interrelated and complex reasons for health disparities. The CDC lists these: poverty; environmental threats; inadequate access to health care; individual and behavioral factors, and educational inequalities.
  • Avoid over-valuing the individual and behavioral factors that contribute to disparities.
  • Learn more about the big picture, including historical and systemic factors that have contributed to the differences we see.
  • Support community approaches that help people get care near their homes and information from community leaders they know and trust.
  • If you are a member of a group not affected by health disparities, make a conscious effort to learn more and think about things you haven’t thought about before. Remember that the people who are most affected by health disparities do not have a choice about being aware of their impact.

Health disparities go beyond COVID-19, including to the work of Families as Allies.  We are committed to addressing disparities as an organization and in the state, and we have taken a number of steps to do so, primarily through data collection and getting feedback from families.

Please let me know if you have additional suggestions. You can email me at or leave a message at 601-355-0915 and I will call you back.

In Unity and Partnership with All of You,


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