Like many growing up in Brownsville, Brooklyn, as a child I suffered from asthma. After living in different places including Syracuse and Charlottesville, it seemed to improve. Did I outgrow asthma or did leaving the neighborhood with one of the highest asthma rates in the city allow my lung function to improve?
While we may never know for certain, there is no doubt that where you live impacts your health. Lack of transportation, food insecurity, air pollution are constant challenges impacting the health of historically disregarded communities across the country, and unfortunately, they are as persistent now as they were decades ago.
Even among wealthy Black communities, health disparities persist. Just think Serena Williams and her near-death experience after childbirth. Through Pfizer’s Multicultural Health Equity Collective (The Collective), 40+ diverse nonprofit partners and advocates are working together to advance health equity, with a focus on improving the health of historically disregarded communities and addressing the drivers of disparate health outcomes, including systemic racism.
In 2022, we hosted a Health Equity in Action Summit to acknowledge how racism impacts health and galvanize sustainable change. Together with The Century Foundation, Morehouse School of Medicine, NACCHO and National Minority Quality Forum, we convened experts across the healthcare ecosystem to discuss scalable solutions for expanding equitable healthcare and health outcomes.
The summit catalyzed attendees to challenge conventional thinking and drive progress across four key areas identified by healthcare professionals, including health facilities and delivery, bias in research and data, pathways to support a more diverse health workforce, and policy.
An overwhelming takeaway from the discussion is that we all need to make healthcare systems – and our movement – more community centered. As much as 90 percent of health happens in between doctors visits, which means that our approach must extend well beyond the doctor’s office.
The summit also reaffirmed that health equity must be embedded into all that we do – it cannot be an afterthought. We must consider it as part of our planning, programs, metrics and daily actions.
The Collective and a working group of Summit attendees have continued our work and are launching an action guide for community engagement and collaboration focused on tangible actions that can be scaled up by interested persons across the country to accelerate progress.
What can we do to advance health equity in health facilities and healthcare delivery, for example? We must invest more in quality care, expand telehealth, invest in community health centers, and support community health workers. We also need to address the social determinants of health by recognizing that factors such as housing, food and transportation all impact our health.
While many of these ideas may seem basic, they are often forgotten. This fact underscores another key summit takeaway: whether in the board room or clinic, it is essential that healthcare organizations have representation from the communities they serve and actively solicit community input.
For many of us at the summit, the experiences of the communities we serve are also our own. It is because of those lived experiences that we strive to advance health equity for all. We firmly believe that together, we can disrupt systemic barriers and make better health possible for all.
You can learn more about The Collective and our progress at Pfizer.com/TheCollective.
Niesha Foster is Vice President of Global Health & Social Impact at Pfizer Inc. where she leads signature product access initiatives and co-leads Pfizer’s Multicultural Health Equity Collective.