During the COVID-19 pandemic, Canadian public health officials have been gathering information on those who have become infected — their age, gender and where they live.
But there are growing calls to collect another kind of data — people’s race.
In the United States, health data has shown that Black Americans have been hit especially hard by COVID-19.
At one point in April, Black Americans accounted for about 42 per cent of all COVID-19 related deaths in the country.
According to the CDC that figure has shrunk to 22 per cent as of July 15, a number which is still outsized considering that Black Americans make up only 13 per cent of the country.
“The transmissions are higher, the recovery rates are lower,” said OmiSoore Dryden, an associate professor at Dalhousie University‘s department of community health & epidemiology.
But in Canada and in Nova Scotia that data isn’t available.
Marla MacInnis, a spokesperson for the province, told Global News “some race-based data is collected if individuals choose to self-identify to Public Health.”
“However, there is no requirement to provide this information and therefore it isn’t reported on,” she said.
Dryden believes that if the province was collecting race-based health data it would show that African Nova Scotians are more susceptible to the virus.
“Working multiple jobs, working at different sites, being under-housed, living in multi-generational families, living sometimes in food deserts,” she said, puts them at a higher risk of infection.
Sharon Davis-Murdoch, who co-founded the Health Association of African Canadians, has been advocating for the collection of race-based health data for decades.
“I have to tell you, it’s been a source of some frustration. We have articulated it, we have identified it, we have talked about it, we have written letters about it,” she said.
Davis-Murdoch says systemic racism exists and that she’s lived it.
But without data, public health won’t be able to see it.
“[They won’t be able] to understand inequities and disparities, to understand the utilization or lack of it in the health-care system, to understand the underrepresentation in positions of clinical care as well as in administration,” she said.
To not collect that data, Dryden said, is to ignore the issues.
“If you truly do care about the health of all people in the province, then collect the data to measure whether or not all people in the province are receiving equitable care,” she said.
Both Dryden and Davis-Murdoch add that the collection of information needs to be done in collaboration with racialized communities.
They say the data needs to be analyzed through a lens of critical race theory and it needs to be followed by policy and action.
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