Princeton professor discusses health care disparities
From the bubonic plague to the Spanish flu to the coronavirus, Henry Putnam University professor of history and public affairs at Princeton University Keith Wailoo gave a talk on Wednesday on what pandemics throughout history have revealed about society and its racial and class disparities.
USC Visions and Voices has invited Wailoo to speak as part of Race, Justice and Medicine in the 21st Century, a lecture series that hosts three renowned scholars in race, gender and medicine to talk about some of the issues the most difficult ones that affect the health of individuals and society. At the hybrid event — which students attended on Zoom or in the Health Sciences Campus’ Mayer Auditorium — Wailoo spoke and shared slides from Princeton University.
Currently president of the American Association for the History of Medicine, Wailoo began his academic career teaching social and cultural aspects of health and science at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill, where he graduated. focused on current issues in health care and medical education, and used an understanding of history to inform contemporary practices. Wailoo’s research includes health history and politics and the politics of race and health, covering topics such as gun and drug policy.
“We knew of his work as a historian, and we thought, especially at this time in history, in the midst of the COVID pandemic, that his work in studying other pandemics and what they reveal about society would help show us the unequal burden of COVID-19 on people of color in this country,” said Dr. Pamela Schaff, program director of humanities, ethics/economics, arts, and development. law from the Keck School of Medicine, in an interview with the Daily Trojan.
On behalf of the Vision and Voices team, Marie-Reine Velez kicked off the event by acknowledging USC’s location on Indigenous lands and honoring the stories of the original inhabitants of the Tongva, Chumash and Keach peoples and the African Diaspora.
Wailoo’s presentation first focused on stories of inequality in two major waves of the coronavirus pandemic. He shared a graph from The New York Times which showed that in November 2020, during what Wailoo called the first wave of the pandemic, infections in the United States exceeded 11 million and the black and Latinx community represented a disproportionate number of cases, infections and deaths. . Inequality worsened as unemployment soared as those who could afford it retreated into “smaller, safer worlds”. The second wave of the pandemic presented disparities in the distribution of vaccines.
“New disparities in vaccination, race and class, accentuated by political partisanship, have resulted in new realities in infection levels, as well as in the death rate,” Wailoo said.
Wailoo discussed the issues that pandemics often highlight. The coronavirus has raised questions about disease theories such as asymptomatic transmission, evolution and transmission of the virus. It has also sparked debates about appropriate prevention tactics, the role of government, and a strong public health system. Conversations also took place about the sociology of vulnerability and blame as well as the power of information and misinformation, Wailoo said.
Wailoo then compared the experiences of the coronavirus pandemic to those of previous pandemics. His slides, which featured various visuals of historical documents such as drawings and book photos, cycled through a list of patterns in the responses and societal effects of pandemics such as the cholera pandemic in the 19th century and the influenza pandemic in the 20th. century. .
Using writer Daniel Defoe’s characterization of 17th-century bubonic plague in London, when outer parishes that housed the poor were hit hard, Wailoo explained that pandemics often reveal the face of poverty. The same pattern could be found in the cholera and yellow fever pandemics. The many public sufferings of previous pandemics have become drivers of change, Wailoo said.
“One of the things you can often see is how the public suffering witnessed by these graphic examples of people afflicted in the central populated parts of the city can become a rallying cry for quarantine, for measures of aggressive public health, street cleaning, closing signs and also all kinds of street cleaning and public health,” Wailoo said.
Pandemics have often widened the reach of government, which people have met with protests, Wailoo said. He gave a recent example from Canada, when Prime Minister Justin Trudeau invoked emergency powers in response to trucker protests over vaccination mandates.
Wailoo also spoke about how blame works during the pandemic — and the rich literature about it — as well as the racist and fearmongering language often used.
Following Wailoo’s presentation, students asked questions, either via Zoom Q&A or, if participating in person, via a microphone at the front of the auditorium.
The event organizer and Alexander Capron closed the event by asking attendees to consider bringing forward the experience and lessons of the pandemic and the event.
“Will this shock of every death from this and disease cause us to strengthen our public health system?” said Capron, a law and medicine professor at USC. “Or will the fact that the burden has been borne primarily by the underprivileged cause us to ignore it?