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The Unitarian Universalist Service Committee advances human rights through grassroots collaborations.

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World Health Day: COVID-19 Pandemic Reveals Systemic Injustice, Calls Us To Act

In the midst of a worldwide health crisis, social injustice is highlighted more than ever.

By Rev. Mary Katherine Morn on April 7, 2020

The World Health Organization’s (WHO) World Health Day has for 70 years sought to raise awareness of public health globally. Today we have a deeper understanding of the impact of global health crises on us all. And though any of us may become sick, any of us may die as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, very little else is equal.

UUSC is privileged to work with partners who understand this all too well. We partner with grassroots organizations after a disaster knowing they represent communities already impacted by injustice, communities likely to become even more disadvantaged by a crisis. Communities we know are more likely to succumb to disaster and tragedy because of the challenges they experience. It is beginning to be widely understood that disparities between the privileged and the oppressed are magnified during a disaster. The thousands of deaths caused by COVID-19 and the nuances in national responses to the pandemic illustrate glaring instances of the haves and the have nots.

Compounding Injustices

In Houston, after 2017’s Hurricane Harvey, UUSC worked alongside the Living Hope Wheelchair Association (LHWA)—led by immigrants, low-income families, and people with disabilities—to provide financial resources and other support for rebuilding. UUSC and its members were proud to co-sponsor a January 2019 report authored by LHWA staff, Pre-Existing Conditions In a Time of Disaster: Challenges and Opportunities Advancing an Equitable Recovery for Vulnerable Populations, an incisive examination of how tragedy and crisis often compound the injustices many communities already face.

“Harvey was a natural disaster, for many people the recovery continues to be a human-created disaster,” the report observes as it documents instances of inadequate access to healthcare and much-needed services that pre-dated the deadly storm and were only exacerbated in its wake.

Likewise, after Hurricane Dorian in the Bahamas late last year, we saw how the storm created rapid onset climate-forced displacement among communities already facing considerable disadvantages. Haitian migrants occupy the bottom of a “caste system” in the Bahamas; they are criminalized and experience racism, economic and residential segregation, job discrimination, and an utter lack of access to resources and reliable social support systems. We are seeking to support organizations addressing these “groundwater” issues for the sake of realizing equity for Haitian immigrants in the Bahamas as the nation faces recovery and navigates its future.

How are these anecdotes related to global health? The circumstances in which we live, the injustices we face (or don’t face), dictate our quality of our lives.

Our Health is Inextricably Linked to Our Circumstances

For those of us who are healthy, living through this pandemic is a critical time to consider the worldwide health crisis we are facing. COVID-19 brings a crisp and sobering lens to the underlying crises that characterize the lives of millions. The components have been here for so very long: rampant economic inequality, valuing profit over people, disaster capitalism, transforming healthcare into business opportunities rather than a human right, racism and ethnic hatred, white supremacy, rabid nationalism, and governing for profit.

They say COVID-19 is an equalizer. And it is certainly true that any of us can fall ill to the virus. The long-term effects, however, for those of us who survive, will not be equal. We know this to be true about disasters. Almost always, inequity is made much worse by a crisis—in practice, and sadly, often by design.

As we move beyond this global catastrophe—and we will move forward—we commit ourselves to change. We commit to living in alignment with things we understand today more than ever: we are all connected; what affects one, affects all; every human life is precious; though we share the same ultimate fate—our day to day choices drastically affect the days we are given; we can build a fairer and more just world.

As we rebuild and pick up the pieces after this pandemic, let us use the tragedy of the lives lost and the injustices laid bare as much-needed inspiration to advocate for global transformation.

Photo Credit: iStock – zoranm


About UUSC: Guided by the belief that all people have inherent worth and dignity, UUSC advances human rights globally by partnering with affected communities who are confronting injustice, mobilizing to challenge oppressive systems, and inspiring and sustaining spiritually grounded activism for justice. We invite you to join us in this journey toward realizing a better future!

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