Fouad, Ruffin and Vickers: COVID-19 is disproportionately high in African Americans

Three UAB doctors and professors share five ways the medical community can work to address the needs of underrepresented populations as we work to understand COVID-19.
Written by: Susan Driggers
Media contact: Adam Pope


Elderly woman is comforted by a medical professional during the Covid-19.  Focus is on their hands.  The medical staff is holding the woman's hand.The facts surrounding the disparities between African American and white populations during the COVID-19 pandemic should not be a surprise. With an African American population of 26.8 percent in Alabama, data shows 37.5 percent of lab-confirmed COVID-19 cases are African American and a devastating 47.4 percent of coronavirus deaths are of the same demographic.

For many years, researchers have been studying health outcomes in underserved populations —using what they learn to help narrow the gap in disparities. Then why, with decades of information, did we compound disparities during the COVID-19 pandemic by not adhering to the lessons learned along the way?

The University of Alabama at Birmingham’s Mona Fouad, M.D., John Ruffin, Ph.D., and  School of Medicine Dean Selwyn Vickers, M.D., came together for their most recent publication in The American Journal of Medicine to write “COVID-19 Is Disproportionately High in African Americans. This Will Come as No Surprise ….” In this article, Fouad, Ruffin and Vickers share five ways the medical community can work to address the needs of underrepresented populations as we work to understand COVID-19:

  • Ensure appropriate and culturally sensitive messaging
  • Ensure equitable testing
  • Ensure that therapeutic and vaccine clinical trials are representative of those at higher risk
  • Ensure follow-up and access to appropriate care
  • Commit to ensuring that COVID-19 does not widen the health disparities that already exist

The authors said, “… we seem to have treated the coronavirus as novel in one too many ways, looking past evidence and experience that would have foreshadowed the disparities to come. That said, there is still time to make sure this disparities story has a different outcome.”

Mona Fouad, M.D., MPH, is the senior associate dean of Diversity and Inclusion, professor and director in the Division of Preventive Medicine, and director of the UAB Minority Health and Health Disparities Research Center.

John Ruffin, Ph.D., is the founding director of the National Institute of Minority Health and Health Disparities at the National Institutes of Health. He is also a professor in the Division of Preventive Medicine at UAB.

Selwyn Vickers, M.D., is a professor and the senior vice president of Medicine at UAB and the dean of the UAB School of Medicine.

The UAB Minority Health and Health Disparities Research Center, established in 2002, generates and disseminates research knowledge from biomedical, behavioral and social sciences in order to reduce the health disparities experienced by vulnerable populations and disadvantaged communities locally, regionally and nationally.