Thinking About Liver Health and Social Determinants During Black History Month

February is Black History Month and it is a time to reflect on not only the heartbreaking remembrances about those who gave their lives to causes we take for granted, but also continue to make things better today in other ways. The history that is recorded in books, depicted in movies, hidden away in tattered notebooks remind us about the distressing issues of the past. Looking back gives us a perspective about the wrongs from history, but we need to be reminded about today’s inequities.

In thinking about the current health system and some of the social determinants of health, there remain contemporary problems that need to be addressed.

In previous reporting in Contagion, a study showed social determinants of health were associated with increased rates of premature death according to racial and ethnic groups. Specifically, there was an increased premature mortality rate among Black adults, according to a paper published in The Lancet Public Health.1

And in that study, compared to the White participants, Black and Hispanic participants had lower levels of employment, family income, food security, educational attainment, health care access, private health insurance, and home ownership. Additionally, a lower proportion of Black participants were married or living with a partner compared to the other racial and ethnic groups.1

And in thinking about liver health and how it relates specifically to viral hepatitis, Blacks are more likely to have a heavier health burden here as well. Here are some statistics from the US Department of Health and Human Services Office of Minority Health:

  • In 2020, non-Hispanic blacks were 1.4 times as likely to die from viral hepatitis, as compared to non-Hispanic whites.
  • In 2020, non-Hispanic blacks were almost twice as likely to die from hepatitis C as compared to the white population.
  • While having comparable case rates for hepatitis B in 2020, non-Hispanic blacks were 2.5 times more likely to die from hepatitis B than non-Hispanic whites.

These numbers demonstrate a divide in health care in just this one area. The strength of older generations came from having a “cause” to dedicate their lives to that made them strong and capable of surviving while helping the less fortunate “others” to deal with all the unexpected challenges they would face in the hours, days, and years ahead. Statues, plaques and awards honor the successful accomplishments we’ve achieved searching for elusive answers to a problem.

Today, it is important to think about today’s cause. Part of it can be around developing treatment strategies and education about liver health and bridging the gap in hepatitis outcomes for Black Americans. It’s up to us to make Black History memorable and inspiring for future generations and to make progress where needed including providing better health outcomes as it relates to liver health and hepatitis.

1. Lutz R. How Social Determinants of Health Affect Premature Deaths in Racial and Ethnic Groups. ContagionLive. June 17, 2023. Accessed February 12, 2024.

2. Hepatitis and African Americans. US Department of Health and Human Services Office of Minority Health. Accessed February 12, 2024. https://minorityhealth.hhs.gov/hepatitis-and-african-americans

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