History is Relevant and Quite Telling

This year I brushed up on my history. Meaning, I learned the truth. I reviewed history that was beyond the history taught to us in school (that is history taught through the eyes of the colonizers).

History is relevant. And you are probably wondering, why is it relevant for someone in public health, healthcare and medicine? My answer: it affects how the patient perceives you, perceives you interaction and your treatment. You need to know the history of what various communities have gone through – and why they may be hesitant.

The history from the infamous Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment on Black men to the history of the sterilization of indigenous women to the more recent history of racism in medicine – of physicians sterilizing women in prisons and in detention centers. US Public Health Service conducted the infamous Tuskegee Syphilis Study in which socially and economically marginalized Black men were subjected to syphilis experiments, even after the creation of penicillin, which was withheld to assess the long-term effects of syphilis on the body. The Tuskegee study is the most documented explanation of medical mistrust, but there is more to the story of mistrust.

We need to known the social history in order to understand where medical mistrust may come from, especially with the coronavirus vaccine around the corner.

Let’s take a look into another example of history that isn’t as widely known. HIV-related “conspiracy beliefs” center around the notion that the US federal government has been involved in creating and/or maintaining HIV/AIDS as a form of genocide against Black or other marginalized populations, such as other racial and ethnic minority groups, and possibly sexual minority men and people who use drugs. These ideas are also applied to the ART therapy that is used to treat HIV. Medical mistrust and conspiracy beliefs have been conceptualized as a “cultural barrier” which insinuates that such mistrust is a characteristic of populations of color in the United States

I am so enthusiastic about the vaccine and want everyone to receive – but if we see vaccination hesitancy from communities that have been affected by medical mistrust consistently – we have to understand their perspective and find a way to build trust to create healthier communities. Public health professionals & healthcare workers must try to be sensitive to communities affected by medical mistrust. Using this new perspective we can find an empathetic way to reach out to and spread the right information.collaboration and empathy is key.

The communities that have been affected by medical mistrust are the same communities that are disproportionately affected by COVID-19. There is a lack on the end of the healthcare system in trying to fix this.

For now, I ask you all to find ways to be more gentle and be sensitive & find a way to distribute vaccination information in such a way. Historical context informs us that this medical mistrust phenomenon was created by and exists within a system that creates and sustains and reinforced racism, classism, homophobia, & transphobia and stigma.

We need to work harder to recreate a system that builds trust and inclusivity.

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