This piece is part of our 2021 Year in Review, a reflection on the issues and causes that mattered most this year – and the tangible ways you can support before year-end.
Health and healthcare remained at the forefront of many people’s minds throughout 2021. But the development and promotion of new treatments and medicine are far from the only social issue regarding health. Access to life-saving treatment varies widely based on race, wealth, gender, and sexuality in a country where workers aren’t guaranteed a single paid sick day. An entire field of medicine started with the torture of enslaved people; racial disparities in medical outcomes for a range of conditions persist to this day. As some of our top articles from the past year explain, gross inequities in the healthcare system existed well before the pandemic. Community initiatives around the country are demanding action so that such inequities don’t continue once the pandemic subsides.
• As patients: support the Transinclusive Group and SisterSong.
• As workers: demand paid sick leave for all Americans.
• As voters: support state legislation to protect reproductive rights.
The version of the Build Back Better bill that cleared the House of Representatives would institute four weeks of paid sick leave for American private-sector workers (Huffington Post). However, there’s no guarantee that paid family and medical leave will survive Senate negotiations on the law. In the face of an ongoing health catastrophe, it’s more important than ever to demand that the United States join the 93% of nations that mandate paid sick leave for workers.
Initially identified with marginalized populations like gay men and intravenous drug users, treatment for HIV and AIDS was only prioritized after years of community organizing and direct action. Today, PrEP can dramatically reduce the chances of contracting HIV. But access to PrEP, monopolized by the Gilead Sciences pharmaceutical conglomerate (ACT UP NY, KHN), isn’t widely available for those with the greatest chance to get HIV: Black and Latinx men who have sex with men, particularly in the South.
Modern reproductive healthcare was founded on white supremacist violence. J. Marion Sims, the “founder of modern gynecology,” developed the discipline by performing human experimentation, without anesthesia, on enslaved women. Today, half of medical students believe Black patients feel less pain than white people, and Black people are 3.3 times more likely to die of pregnancy-related complications than white people. As Dr. Kimberlé Crenshaw said of Anita Hill, “you cannot talk about this just in gender terms — you have to be intersectional — there is a long history you cannot ignore” (New Statesman).