By Janice Greene
As president of the Snohomish County NAACP, I work alongside my executive committee and other passionate equal rights advocates to eliminate racial discrimination and disparities in our region.
This is a challenging task, but we’re proud of the impactful campaigns we spearhead as a chapter. These initiatives help to elevate awareness on issues related to political, educational, social and economic justice.
One of our chapter’s highest priorities is defending the rights of people of color to have access to timely, quality, affordable health care. One of the paths to better outcomes starts with equal representation in clinical trials.
Today, fewer than 10 percent of patients enrolled in clinical trials for breakthrough medicines are racial or ethnic minorities — despite the fact that this population makes up nearly 40 percent of the U.S. population.
The cost and time commitment of clinical participation, plus inadequate outreach efforts to diverse communities, puts up a barrier to participation. In turn, people of color are immediately at a medical disadvantage as we sometimes respond differently to treatments. This varied response means that a potential new cure applies only to those able to participate in its trials.
It is crucial that hospitals, health care staff and researchers understand these barriers and work to address inequality in clinical trials. Last month was Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and we are especially reminded that deadly disparities still exist. Today, breast cancer mortality rates are higher in African American than Caucasian women — and women of color have not benefitted as greatly from improved detection and treatment methods.
It is also important that we acknowledge and address one of the underlying reasons that people of color do not participate. People of color have a long and difficult history with the medical community. An example is the notorious Tuskegee syphilis trials of the 1930s. As a result, there is skepticism with participation. Now, the safety and ethics of clinical trials are heavily regulated and federal rules are enforced to ensure compliance.
At the NAACP, we work to foster trust between our communities and doctors. Building those relationships — and investing in our own health — is the only way for us to benefit from ongoing research and development of potentially life-saving treatments.
Clinical trials are safe, and the medicines tested today are more promising than ever. Washington state is known for its abundance of safe, effective treatments — especially in cancer research. We now have the opportunity to work with the medical community toward strengthening equality in health care and to save lives.
Dr. Janice Greene is president of the Snohomish County NAACP.