This month, PhRMA published our commitment to racial equity and inclusion in the New York Times as well as in the Informer and the AfroAmerican, DC-based, Black-owned newspapers. This public declaration is an important milestone for our industry as we continue to take concrete steps to address systemic racism and work towards a more equitable future.
My excitement at this progress has been tempered by a somber reflection on recent events. As a Black woman, I worry about the unequal impact that COVID-19 has on Black and Brown communities. In fact, the data show that in the U.S., Black people account for 13% of the population, but make up 22% of COVID-19 deaths where race is known. And Blacks, Latinos, American Indians and Asian Americans also represent a disproportionate number of cases due to co-morbidities, such as hypertension and diabetes, prevalent in many communities of color. On a personal level, I am concerned about how to protect my son who has a pre-existing condition and my dad who is a heart transplant survivor and lives in my home state of Florida, where coronavirus infection and death rates are staggering. I also worry about my best friend, a pharmacist in Washington state, who in the early days of the virus was (and still is) putting in 12-hour shifts to ensure Native communities have access to the medicines they need. The anxiety continues to be real amongst my Black and Brown colleagues as many of us know people who have either contracted COVID-19 or have died from it. While I continue to worry about my family and friends’ well-being, it gives me hope to know that America’s biopharmaceutical companies are committed to developing quality, efficacious solutions to help diagnose and treat those with COVID-19.
While grappling with the toll of COVID-19 on our communities, we also faced the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Rayshard Brooks, which felt like further insult to injury. The reality of health inequity for Black and Brown communities compounded with these senseless deaths, and those before them who had met a similar demise, was enough to push me and my Black and Brown friends and family over the edge. It is a heavy emotional weight in realizing the inability to protect ourselves and our communities from an unseen virus while simultaneously still having to fight for basic human rights as Black Americans—the constitutional right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, the same as every American.
I feel privileged to be leading a team of brilliant, earnest people at PhRMA that is serious about its commitment to racial equity and inclusion. I am hopeful that together, we can help PhRMA reflect upon and identify additional ways in which it could improve its corporate citizenship in a significant and transparent way. We are working across our industry to convey both the urgency of acting now and the moral imperative to be truly more culturally diverse and inclusive. We need to ensure that the work we carry forward in this space demonstrates a cultural shift in how our industry shows up to the Black and Brown communities we serve, to the Black and Brown employees who give their talent to power the industry, and to the future generations of Black and Brown children who deserve better.
Systemic racism is as real as any disease, and our industry is not immune. We are taking the necessary steps to make meaningful change for Black and Brown communities of today and tomorrow. The print advertisement is just the start.
Learn more and follow our progress at PhRMA.org/Equity.
Courtney Christian is a Senior Director of Policy and Research at PhRMA focusing on state-based reforms impacting health insurance, prescription drug coverage in public health programs and on health equity. Prior to joining PhRMA, she worked at the Black Women’s Health Imperative as Director of Policy and Advocacy, and on Capitol Hill for a number of years in a series of roles, including as Legislative Director. Courtney is a Florida State football fan (and alum), aspiring chef, and mom to an energetic preschooler.