Highlights from COVID-19: Magnifying the World’s Inequities

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By Environmental Change and Security Program, Environmental Change, and Security Program. Discovered by Player FM and our community — copyright is owned by the publisher, not Player FM, and audio is streamed directly from their servers. Hit the Subscribe button to track updates in Player FM, or paste the feed URL into other podcast apps.
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COVID-19 has wreaked havoc the world over, and recent data shows that the hardest hit will be the world’s women and girls and populations impacted by racism and discrimination. This week’s Friday Podcast highlights remarks from a recent Wilson Center event sponsored by EMD Serono, the biopharmaceutical business of Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany in the United States and Canada, on the impact of COVID-19 on race and gender inequities. “Mortality of men [due to COVID-19] is higher but let me just emphasize that women play an outsized role in responding not only to COVID-19, but in many of the pandemics,” said Katja Iversen, President and CEO of Women Deliver. “The default health worker is now female,” said Dr. Roopa Dhatt, Founder and Executive Director of Women in Global Health. “Women make up majority of the workforce, but they remain clustered in the lower status, lower paid jobs, mainly the frontline. They also occupy most of invisible lower status jobs as well, so we need to factor in that they're subject to more sexual harassment and violence as a result and are not part of the decision-making table.” “In the midst of this pandemic, bad policies and structural barriers may contribute to millions of people losing access to essential sexual and reproductive health (SRH) services,” said Zara Ahmed, Associate Director for Federal Issues at Guttmacher Institute. To minimize the negative impacts of COVID-19 on SRH services, Ahmed recommends defining and promoting SRH as essential; strengthening supply chains to make SRH medicines more accessible; making contraception available without a prescription; adopting innovative care models of care; and addressing the unique needs of vulnerable and marginalized populations. UNFPA projections show that for every three months of lockdown, there will be an additional 15 million cases of gender-based violence. “In terms of gender-based violence, we're seeing an increase, and this is because of isolation, locked down, restricted movements, tensions in the households from financial and economic stresses,” said Leyla Sharafi, Senior Gender Advisor of UNFPA. Further marginalized groups like women with disabilities, indigenous women, and women and girls living in humanitarian settings have a heightened risk of experiencing violence, said Sharafi. COVID-19 also exacerbates racial inequities. “So, we have three main root causes [of inequities] and those are racism, classism, and gender oppression,” said Dr. Joia Crear-Perry, Founder and President of the National Birth Equity Collaborative. “We do know that black women in the United States, despite income or education, are still more likely to die in childbirth than their white counterparts, so that's really where you see the overarching how those inequities and those beliefs around hierarchy can come together in one space and cause people to die,” said Dr. Crear-Perry. Health care providers are at the center of addressing inequities in the healthcare system, said Dr. Neel Shah, Assistant Professor of Obstetrics, Gynecology, and Reproductive Biology at Harvard Medical School and a practicing OB-GYN in Boston. “One of the challenges that I'm seeing right now is that the biology of this disease and the sociology of this disease really interact, and the people that are historically experts in the biology aren't fully attending to the sociology and honestly, vice-versa,” said Dr. Shah. “Currently we have to isolate people who are both symptomatic and asymptomatic which is effectively everyone. And isolating everyone takes all of the existing inequities in our society and it throws them into a pressure cooker.”

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