Health Justice Strategies to Combat the Pandemic: Eliminating Discrimination, Poverty, and Health Disparities During and After COVID-19

50 Pages Posted: 28 Jun 2020 Last revised: 26 May 2023

See all articles by Emily A. Benfer

Emily A. Benfer

George Washington University - Law School

Seema Mohapatra

SMU Dedman School of Law

Lindsay F. Wiley

University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) - School of Law

Ruqaiijah Yearby

Moritz College of Law, The Ohio State University

Date Written: June 1, 2020

Abstract

Past infectious disease epidemics in the United States and governmental responses to them made it highly predictable that people living in poverty, people of color, and people with disabilities would bear the brunt of the coronavirus pandemic due to discrimination that limits equal access to resources, such as health care, housing, and employment. The COVID-19 pandemic magnified and accelerated the impact of longstanding discrimination and health inequity among historically marginalized groups and low-income populations. Black and Latinx populations have a higher COVID-19 contraction and mortality rate, higher rates of unemployment, less access to health care, and are at higher risk of eviction during the pandemic, among other significant inequities. Without robust and swift government interventions, the impacts of the pandemic will be wide and deep. This article analyzes mechanisms of discrimination and barriers to health in the pandemic setting using the health justice framework to address discrimination and poverty. The health justice framework offers four overarching principles to prevent and eliminate health disparities during and after the COVID-19 pandemic. First, legal and policy responses must address the impacts of discrimination and poverty on the social determinants of health, which in turn threaten to exacerbate the health, financial, and social impacts of a public health emergency on low-income communities, communities of color, and other marginalized communities. Second, interventions mandating healthy behaviors—such as staying at home from work when sick, mask wearing, and minimizing close contacts outside the home—must be accompanied by legal protections, accommodations, and social supports to enable those behaviors while minimizing economic, social, and cultural harms. Third, because emergencies typically exacerbate long-standing and interconnected crises in low-income communities and communities of color, legal and policy responses must address root problems in addition to immediate needs. Fourth, historically marginalized communities must be engaged as leaders in the development of any interventions and the attainment of health justice. To demonstrate the application of the health justice framework and principles, this article focuses upon three pillars that support resilience and equip marginalized communities to withstand the immediate and long-term impacts of the pandemic: health care, housing, and employment. This article explains how health care discrimination is a social determinant of health, how lack of access to health care operated as a barrier to health justice during the COVID-19 pandemic, and applies the health justice framework to address health inequity. Then this article explains how housing and eviction are social determinants of health, how housing discrimination is a barrier to health justice during the COVID-19 pandemic, and suggests way to achieve health justice in housing. Finally, this article discusses how poverty and employment inequity are social determinants of health, how structural discrimination is an accelerator of employment inequity during the COVID-19 pandemic, and suggests how health justice principles can help achieve equity in employment. Ultimately, the framework can be adopted across numerous social determinants of health and structures to ensure the elimination of discrimination, poverty, and poor health among marginalized people during and after the pandemic.

Keywords: health, COVID, COVID-19, pandemic, coronavirus, health justice, race, racial justice, discrimination, employment, health care, housing, eviction, minority, health disparity, inequality, civil rights

Suggested Citation

Benfer, Emily and Mohapatra, Seema and Wiley, Lindsay Freeman and Yearby, Ruqaiijah, Health Justice Strategies to Combat the Pandemic: Eliminating Discrimination, Poverty, and Health Disparities During and After COVID-19 (June 1, 2020). 19 Yale Journal of Health Policy, Law, and Ethics 122 (2020), Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3636975 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3636975

Emily Benfer (Contact Author)

George Washington University - Law School ( email )

2000 H Street, N.W.
Washington, DC 20052
United States

Seema Mohapatra

SMU Dedman School of Law ( email )

P.O. Box 750116
Dallas, TX 75275
United States

Lindsay Freeman Wiley

University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) - School of Law ( email )

385 Charles E. Young Dr. East
Room 1242
Los Angeles, CA 90095-1476
United States

Ruqaiijah Yearby

Moritz College of Law, The Ohio State University ( email )

55 West 12th Avenue
Columbus, OH 43210
United States

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