July 24, 2020 at 12:17 pm EDT | by Kaela Roeder
British Consulate General New York hosts intersectional public health panel
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The British Consulate General New York on Wednesday hosted a panel that focused on intersectionality in global public health.

The panel — “International Intersectionality: A Global Perspective on Public Health” — focused on the coronavirus’ impact on vulnerable populations, the parallels between the pandemic and the HIV epidemic and how mental health has been impacted in marginalized communities during the COVID-19 crisis.

Ananda Seeram, the public diplomacy coordinator of the British Consulate General New York, moderated the panel. Anne Aslett, the global chief executive officer of the Elton John AIDS Foundation, British Ambassador Karen Pierce and Phyll Opuku-Gyimah, the executive director of Kaleidoscope Trust and co-founder and director UK Black Pride, were the panelists.

The experts highlighted interventions are needed to protect LGBTQ and people of color such as addressing stigmas and fears in seeking healthcare and acknowledging inequities in healthcare systems worldwide.

Pierce said systemic inequities need to be recognized by governments on a global scale as a first step to addressing widespread public health disparities. Developing and distributing a vaccine for the coronavirus is not the ultimate goal, she said, it is only a part of repairing the damage. 

“Getting the drugs to people is only half the story. It’s what makes them vulnerable in the first place, what prevents them from getting those drugs or prevents them from staying on those drugs are all of the other factors that determine whether you (governments) succeed or fail,” Pierce said.

Aslett said collecting data is essential to combating the coronavirus and addressing its unequal impact. Gathering data helped broaden research and understanding of the HIV epidemic, as well.

Agencies also need to refrain from “over-labeling” groups affected by the pandemic when evaluating data, Pierce said, as excessive grouping can allow for communities to be missed in the policymaking process and drug distribution, as women in Africa and the Caribbean were during the HIV epidemic. 

“We do label people, we like labeling communities,” said Pierce. “It seems to be something hardwired into our brains. And yet if you’re going to stop the transmission of a disease, you have to look at other things other than your own prejudices.”

In addition, providing resources to marginalized communities is necessary, said Opuku-Gyimah. As regions begin to reopen, personal protective equipment is needed for essential workers to stay healthy. Local community organizations will also need to ensure vaccines are widely accessible and available, she said.

Consistent and accessible messaging and community-based training on the healthcare system can help combat these inequities, Pierce said.

Both the coronavirus and HIV pandemics have bred racism and scapegoating, as well. People of Asian descent are also facing an increase in discrimination like gay men suffered in the early 1980s.

LGBTQ people are also facing coronavirus-fueled discrimination, specifically in South Korea.

Contact-tracing programs in May were found discriminatory by many advocacy groups after a 29-year-old man was reported as going to a variety of nightclubs in Seoul. Local media indicated many of the establishments he visited are popular among LGBTQ South Koreans.

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