COVID-19 racial data, policy needed for B.C. to fight inequality in heath care: doctor

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) — As advocates continue to call on the province to collect racial data for COVID-19, one B.C. doctor argues for robust policy to ensure that data will help address health inequalities.

Race-based data is not being collected by the province, with the exception of Indigenous communities. However, experts and activists say without the data, they can’t do anything about the virus impacting BIPOC communities disproportionately.

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Dr. Farah Shroff, a public health researcher says it will be a public health failure if the province stops at collecting race-based data without enacting solution-based policies, which she says is happening in the U.S.

“I want to be able to say, ‘And Canada is doing something about it. We’re working with communities of African heritage and the leadership within their communities to make sure we have policies in programs in place now so that these problems are going to be alleviated.’ ”

She says proving that Black and Indigenous people in B.C. are contracting the virus at higher rates is the first step of many.

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“Just because you can say that something is happening, that there are trends, and the data is really robust, doesn’t mean that you’re going to change that reality. When we start collecting that data and doing something to improve the health of BIPOC communities, that’s when we are really going to start making a difference.”

Shroff argues it’s necessary that the province works directly with communities to implement effective policies.

According to the province, due to the surge in cases and demand for public health resources, data on race is not currently being collected at the point of care.

Capacity lacking, says top doctor

Speaking Saturday during a COVID-19 briefing, Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said she has been working with the federal government to come up with a standard to collect the data, but the province lacks the capacity to do so at this point.

“We don’t, frankly, have a coordinated information technology system — an IT system — that allows us to easily transmit and share that information,” she explained.

RELATED: City of Vancouver pushes for race-based, socioeconomic data on COVID-19

The challenge, Henry says, is the additional questions to collect the data means more time is needed to enter the information as well.

“So we are not able to do that on our case-based investigations, we’re focusing on the health actions that we need to take with each individual person in the midst of this pandemic,” she said.

Henry added she supports the collection of race-based data.

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