How Insulin Uncovers Institutional Racism

Racial disparity in the United States often echoes the trials of social injustice that framed American history. The same issues leaders like Martin Luther King Jr. fought for still render African-Americans paralyzed today. Even as a new decade approaches, Black people in America are still struggling with employment, education, poverty, the criminal justice system, and most menacingly, health. A disease that’s often been overlooked both in larger society but specifically Black communities is diabetes.

According to Centers of Disease Control (CDC) national survey data, African-Americans are 77 percent more likely to be diagnosed with diabetes compared to non-Hispanic Caucasians. The complications that accompany diabetes also hit African American communities harder. Diabetic retinopathy is 46 percent more prevalent in African Americans than non-Hispanic whites and they’re 2.6 times more likely have end-stage renal disease, amputations, and fatal complications due to diabetes than Caucasian Americans.

The factors that attribute to racial disparity in diabetes are attributed to a variety of factors that already disproportionately affect black communities including obesity, neighborhood segregation and poverty levels, depression, education, and employment.

To put it simply, diabetes in African-American communities is not only a symptom of pancreatic failure but, a symptom of the inherently racist institutions that haunt them every day. And, it’s getting gradually worse.

The average diabetic patient requires insulin to mimic the insulin hormone that is normally produced by the pancreas, regulating the amount of glucose in a user’s blood. The patient needs to inject the product either because their pancreas doesn’t create insulin on its own, or because the body has become resistant to the insulin their body produces.

With approximately 7.5 million Americans relying on the drug, the pharmaceutical industry is now booming with a $27 billion global insulin market and insulin prices are skyrocketing.

With the United States not having a market-based economy for prescription drugs, the average diabetic is shelling out between $250 to $1,500 for vials of insulin, according to wholesale acquisition cost data from Elsevier’s Gold Standard Drug Database.

In order to best reduce the prices of insulin, policymakers have explored several ideas in order to best solve this problem. The ideas ranged from seizing drug patents to creating generic competition. However, what policymakers didn’t explore was the fact that the economy for prescription drugs is not market-based, as the Los Angeles Times puts it, it’s shame-based. And options, like seizing drug patents and creating generic competition, is an example of peak capitalism in the United States.

A recent study in the Journal of American Medical Assn. found that a quarter of people with diabetes are rationing their insulin because of cost. This can lead to a variety of serious complications, including blindness, amputations, and death. And, given the statistics, the impact of staggering insulin prices can be felt in African-American communities the most.

According to 2017 Census population estimates, 22 percent —9 million— of African Americans fall below the poverty line. This is a major factor contributing to racial disparities in health insurance coverage, as highlighted in a 2017 study that stated that African Americans had persistently lower insurance coverage rates or no insurance at all compared to other communities.

Our society upholds such covert racist values that sneak up on African American communities in the most sinister way– by echoing them in black people’s health.

The United States is a free country, but not for everyone. It’s not free for the poor, it’s not free for the ill, and it’s not free for communities of color. Allowing a vital medicine to cost nearly $2,000 a month is not freedom. Especially when the medicine is to treat a disease most prevalent in communities that struggle with poverty, modern segregation, and obesity.

When the statistics of poverty and health connect and staggeringly go against Black people in America, we need to realize that the problem is, in fact, institutional racism.

Often-times, we reminisce our history– we look upon the inspiring stories that allowed freedom to African Americans and feel a sense of comfort. However, that is comfort only felt by those who are privileged. That is a comfort that refuses to address the reality faced by African-Americans today.

Segregation did not die in 1954. It just evolutionized; and it’s time to admit it.

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