Black community’s distrust of medical field stems from years of mistreatment, ASU professor says

Feb 17, 2022, 4:45 AM
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(Pexels Photo)
(Pexels Photo)

PHOENIX — The COVID-19 pandemic pointed out many holes in the medical field, but one issue that came to light was the distrust the Black community had in the system.

Arizona State University history professor Curtis Austin, who studies African American history with a focus on Civil Rights and Black Power Movements, explains the Black community’s lack of trust in the medical field stems all the way back to the Civil War when doctors would use them as test subjects.

“Because they needed Black bodies to take on this research, they often went to slave plantations,” Austin said. “From the very beginning, the medical profession was not kind to Africans in America.”

The testing on African Americans continued decades later, including with Syphilis trials in the 1930s.

“State doctors, federal government-related doctors did these experiments on Black people to see what the Syphilis disease would do without them knowing,” Austin said.

Austin added African Americans still face racism in the healthcare system today.

“Blacks have the highest infant immortality rates in the county and it’s not because they are different from other human beings, but it’s because of their lack of access,” Austin said.

He said the continued mistreatment of the Black community in the healthcare system created a perfect storm of doubt when it came to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We have a very serious pandemic and here we have essentially white doctors saying to follow the science … but there’s that history that creates a high level of doubt about whether it’s actually going to do that,” Austin said.

Valley nonprofit HeroZona hopes to overcome the distrust and close the vaccination gap.

Alan “AP” Powell, the founding chairman of the HeroZona Foundation, says the organization has tried different ways to engage and educate the community about vaccinations.

“We actually did something unique, we went to Scottsdale and we did a panel with all the DJs and influencers of Scottsdale,” Powell said.

Powell said after the event people were asking where the closest place to get a COVID-19 vaccine was.

“One of the things we figured out when we initially started doing the vaccine outreach is you have to have people who look like you to trust the vaccination,” Austin said.

The nonprofit continues to see vaccinations go up in the Black community, with Powell adding HeroZona has already helped vaccinate over 60,000 people.

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Black community’s distrust of medical field stems from years of mistreatment, ASU professor says