Racism, xenophobia and discrimination are “fundamental influences” on health globally but have been overlooked by health researchers, policymakers and practitioners, the Lancet suggests. Racism is a “profound” and “insidious” driver of health inequalities worldwide and poses a public health threat to millions of people.
Inaccurate and unfounded assumptions about genetic differences between races also continue to shape health outcomes through research, policy and practice, the review of evidence and studies found.
“Racism and xenophobia exist in every modern society and have profound effects on the health of disadvantaged people,” said the lead author, Prof Delan Devakumar of University College London. “Until racism and xenophobia are universally recognised as significant drivers of determinants of health, the root causes of discrimination will remain in the shadows and continue to cause and exacerbate health inequities.”
The reasons why ethnic minorities are at greater risk have received “inadequate scrutiny” from health professionals and researchers, and there is a tendency to assume these inequities are genetically determined and unchangeable, said the Lancet. Its review challenges this notion and the argument that disparities can be explained by patterns of socioeconomic deprivation among racial and ethnic groups.
“Racism is a health issue,” said Richard Horton, the editor-in-chief of the Lancet. “Our structurally racist societies are unsafe for too many communities, families and individuals.”
In August, it was revealed that black and Asian people in England have to wait longer for a cancer diagnosis than white people, with some forced to wait an extra six weeks.
The analysis of NHS waiting times and the world’s largest primary care database by the University of Exeter and the Guardian discovered minority ethnic patients wait longer than white patients in six of seven cancers studied. The results were described as “deeply concerning” and “absolutely unacceptable”.