Man holds up a sign at the Black Lives Matter protest in Washington DC 6/6/2020.

How Social Movements Shape the Law to Address Health Disparities

By Aziza Ahmed

We are facing a health crisis in America. In thinking through the causes of health disparities, a now well-developed body of public health law scholarship focuses in on the central issue of law as a social determinant of health. This scholarship examines the issue of how legal rules can determine health outcomes. Property laws that explicitly or implicitly discriminate against minorities, for example, often result in poor Black communities living in neighborhoods in which they may be more exposed to pollutants, resulting in higher rates of breast cancer or asthma. Or, immigration practices, including ongoing profiling at the border, as well as detention practices, may have mental and physical health impacts.

What is missing from legal scholarship on the social determinants of health is an account of how communities respond to change the legal environments that have the effect of producing poor health outcomes. In other words, how do communities demand a better legal system with regard to health inequality? Here, we must turn to social movements who often drive our national conversation on access to health care by doing the hard work of identifying, naming, and drawing attention to the complexity of issues that people face.

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Syringe and vials of vaccine.

Racial Inclusivity in COVID-19 Vaccine Trials

By Colleen Campbell

Recent calls for racial inclusivity in vaccine trials, which often rely on genetic rationales while emphasizing medical distrust among African Americans, unfortunately lack an equally robust critique of medical racism and the ongoing reasons for this distrust.

Even though race lacks genetic meaning, the COVID-19 discourse is rife with biological notions of race. Because of [g]enetics related to racial differences” African Americans must be involved in clinical trials, said Dr. Larry Graham in an NBC News article. He continued: “We must be sure it works in Black folks.” For this reason, companies like biotech firm Moderna are enlisting Black religious leaders to heavily recruit African American participants. They are also exploiting networks previously used for HIV clinical trials.

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Civil rights march on Washington, D.C. Film negative by photographer Warren K. Leffler, 1963. From the U.S. News & World Report Collection. Library of Congress Prints & Photographs Division. Photograph shows a procession of African Americans carrying signs for equal rights, integrated schools, decent housing, and an end to bias. https://www.loc.gov/item/2003654393/

Structural Racism: The Root Cause of the Social Determinants of Health

By Ruqaiijah Yearby, J.D., M.P.H.

In 1906, W.E.B. DuBois noted that social conditions, not genetics, impacted the health of Blacks, causing racial disparities in mortality rates. In 2010, the federal government formally recognized that social conditions, specifically the social determinants of health (SDOH), were responsible for racial health disparities.

Racial health disparities, estimated to cost the United States $175 billion in lost life years and $135 billion per year in excess health care costs and untapped productivity, persist because of the failure to address their root cause: structural racism.

Structural racism describes the way our systems are structured to produce racial inequalities between whites and racial and ethnic minorities in the SDOH, leading to racial health disparities.

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Valuing the vaccine still.

Valuing the Vaccine: Video Preview with Lisa Ouellette

The Health Law Policy, Bioethics, and Biotechnology Workshop provides a forum for discussion of new scholarship in these fields from the world’s leading experts.

The workshop is led by Professor I. Glenn Cohen, and presenters come from a wide range of disciplines and departments.

In this video, Lisa Ouellette gives a preview of her paper “Valuing the Vaccine,” co-authored by Daniel J. Hemel, which they will present at the Health Law Policy workshop on September 21, 2020. Watch the full video below:

Santiago, Chile - Crosswalk in long-exposure.

Chile’s New Constitution, the Right to Health, and Health System Reforms

By Marco Antonio Nuñez

During these months of the COVID-19 pandemic in Chile, the need to align the constitutional process with long-postponed structural reforms to the health system has become evident among public health experts.

Capitalizing on this moment might avoid the possibility of a constitutional right to health becoming a dead letter or being reduced only to the prosecution of particular cases, postponing again the aspirations of the majority of Chileans.

Although the Chilean Constitution promulgated under the dictatorship in 1980 and subsequently reformed in several of its chapters recognizes “The right to the protection of health,” it has been tainted by authoritarianism from its origin, and promotes a subsidiary role of the state in health.

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gavel and stethoscope on white background

The Right to Health in the Upcoming Constitutional Debate in Chile

By Veronica Vargas

At this unprecedented COVID moment, health has been revealed as one of our most precious possessions and protecting it has become imperative. The right to health was articulated by the WHO in the Declaration of Alma-Ata of 1978. The upcoming constitutional debate in Chile is an opportunity to re-examine this concept.

The Chilean constitution specifies the right to “free and egalitarian access” to health care. Simultaneously, the constitution guarantees that “each person has the right to choose the health system they wish to join, either public or private.”

These provisions have championed a prospering private health sector, with corporate clinics and a private insurance system that represents almost half of total health spending.

However, this private sector serves less than 20 percent of the population. Nearly 80 percent of the population utilizes public sector insurance. Although the public sector has been expanding its coverage of health services, and health indicators for those with public insurance have been improving, the public sector is chronically underfunded. Public sector health care spending represents only 4% of the GDP.

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New York City, New York / USA - June 13 2020 New York City healthcare workers during coronavirus outbreak in America.

COVID-19 and the ‘Essential’ Yet Underappreciated Front-Line Health Care Worker 

By Kimani Paul-Emile

When considering those on the front lines of the coronavirus pandemic response, most people likely envision doctors and nurses. However, there is an often forgotten, front-line workforce comprised of orderlies, nursing facility workers, and nursing assistants (“NAs”) that earns very little money, has few protections, and is largely Black and Brown and female. Many individuals in this group are also subject to a unique form of discrimination: rejection on the basis of their race or ethnicity by some of the very patients they are assigned to aid.

The millions of people who make up this group of essential workers constitute a substantial portion of the health care workforce and earn an average of $13.48 per hour despite the risks they take. Their work, which involves bathing, dressing, and feeding patients; brushing their teeth, and assisting with their use of the toilet, puts these workers at high risk of contracting COVID-19. Nevertheless, early in the pandemic, many of these workers lacked or had inadequate personal protective gear due to the tiered system used for distributing this equipment. Doctors and nurses were first in line for smocks, masks, and other essential gear; last were members of this underappreciated group of front-line health care workers.

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Close-up Of Doctor's Hand Measuring Blood Pressure Of Male Patient.

Understanding the Role of Race in Health: A New Digital Symposium

By Craig Konnoth

In the 1980s, a vanguard of critical race theorists debated their contemporaries as to whether law could or should play a role in achieving equity — in particular, racial equity. Scholars such as Kimberlé Crenshaw and Patricia Williams argued that while legal discourse historically had been used to oppress Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC), history had shown that in the law also lay the seeds of empowerment. Conceptualizing BIPOC as persons endowed with legal rights, and as a community subject to heightened legal solicitude because of the historical injustices they have faced, has helped undergird their selfhood, dignity, identity and activism. Law could thus be a discourse of despair — but also one of hope.

Whether or not the years have proved those claims correct as to the law, today, a similar debate unfolds in the context of race, medicine, and health care. Today, medicine and the health care system embody discourses of power that rival the law. Will these discourses inevitably serve to oppress BIPOC — and if not, how can we harness their power to achieve justice? Those are the questions that this symposium seeks to answer.

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Santiago, Chile.

Pragmatism and the Chilean Constitutional Moment

By Sebastián Soto

Chile is heading into a constitutional change.

After 40 years, the Chilean 1980 Constitution, enacted under Pinochet’s rule, but subsequently amended over fifty times, will probably be replaced. On October 25th, a referendum will decide whether or not to call a constitutional convention to change the Constitution.

If the referendum passes, in April 2021 the convention will be called and will have nine months (extendable for three more, if needed) to write a new constitution. If the convention reaches an agreement on a new constitution by 2/3 of its members, a new referendum to approve it will be called during the first semester of 2022.

Social rights are expected to be one of the most contested topics discussed during the process.

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Buenos Aires, Argentina.

Concerns Mount About Rule of Law in Argentina During COVID-19

By Roberto Gargarella

From the first time that I wrote about the COVID-19 situation in Argentina, June 8, until the date I am writing this, September 7, things have changed significantly.

First, the number of people who have died of COVID-19 in Argentina has risen to nearly 10,000; the 16th highest death toll in the world. The total number of cases is 500,000; which places Argentina among the top 10 countries for infections worldwide.

These alarming statistics are particularly worrying in Argentina, given a number of additional facts mentioned in my original blog.

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