For me, this is personal. No matter how good I am as a doctor, mother, wife, and human being, I can instantly be reduced to one simple word: black—and be judged as that alone. I was taught to work twice as hard and be twice as strong, but it never adds up to being safe in my existence.
The recent killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery have ignited outrage over the deadly impact of racism against black people in the United States. For me and my family, for black friends and colleagues, the heartbreaking reality is that this is normal. We live with some measure of fear and uncertainty every day.
Racism is a public health crisis. We have seen the shocking reports that the COVID-19 mortality rate for black people in the US is more than twice as high as the rate for white people. This research estimates that if the mortality rates were equal, some 13,000 black people would still be alive today.
Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) provides lifesaving medical humanitarian aid around the world and is known for speaking out. Right now, we are listening. And we are taking a hard look at how to confront racism and discrimination within our organization, in the US, and in the world.
MSF provides aid to the people who need it most, regardless of race or ethnicity. But we know all too well how racism can cause deadly harm. We see patients every day who are victims of targeted attacks or who are denied access to health care simply because of who they are. We provide mental health care for victims of trauma, abuse, and persistent discrimination.
We don’t usually run humanitarian operations in the US, but these are unusual times. This spring, we launched temporary operations in the US in response to the unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic. Our aim is to serve vulnerable communities with limited access to health care. It is no coincidence that many of our projects are serving communities of color—including in New York City, Detroit, Florida, Puerto Rico, and working with Native Americans of the Southwest. The racial disparities in access to health care were here long before the pandemic hit, and long before we arrived on the scene. We are listening to community-based health organizations and local health workers to understand what the needs are and how best to respond.
All of us at MSF-USA stand in solidarity with our black colleagues and the black community. We are committed to listening, learning, and taking action against racism. We all must do more to ensure that black lives and health are protected.
Silence is violence—and I won’t be part of that.
Black lives matter.
Dr. Africa Stewart
President of the Board of Directors for MSF-USA