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U of T News story on COVID-19 hurdles to overcome in the year ahead features research and insight from Carmen Logie and Tanya Sharpe

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From treatment to vaccine distribution to public health policy and mental health, U of T researchers have played key roles in addressing the global COVID-19 pandemic — and members of the Factor-Inwentash Faculty are among them. A recent article published in U of T News highlights the hurdles we will face in 2021. Research by Associate Professors Carmen Logie and Tanya Sharpe are featured.

Writes Paul Fraumeni for U of T News:

Associate Professor Carmen LogieCarmen Logie, anassociate professor at the Factor-Inwentash Faculty of Social Work, says the vaccines are lifesavers but notes that getting them to developing countries and then into the arms of people is much more challenging than in Canada. That’s why she is focusing her efforts on the pandemic’s outsized impact on people in low-income countries. In particular, she is studying how COVID-19 is affecting adolescents and young people who are refugees in Uganda’s capital, Kampala – many of whom fled violence in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. She and her research colleagues have been using a mobile phone app to help these young people receive information about preventing COVID-19 – and to express their feelings and concerns.

The challenges experienced by these young people and other refugees were severe in July – and Logie notes that the situation hasn’t improved much since.

“This is a low-income country and the pandemic is striking Uganda and the refugees in an extremely hard way that is much different than in Canada,” she says. “I read a report in mid-December that said in one refugee camp a lack of face masks, water and soap is pushing COVID-19 infection rates higher. The refugees are being given one mask and they are supposed to wash it daily and reuse it, but there isn’t enough water and soap to enable them to do that. This is typical of what’s happening there.”

“While we do need to take care of one another in Canada, and we need to address the inequalities within Canada, we also need to keep an eye on larger global inequalities. The fact is that there are low-income people in the world won’t get a vaccine until 2022. We should all be concerned about that.”

Eileen de Villa, Toronto’s chief medical officer of health, revealed data in a July CBC article showing that Black people accounted for 21 per cent of reported cases of COVID in the city even though they made up only nine per cent of the overall population. The disparity was similar for people of Arab, Middle Eastern and West Asian descent, de Villa noted.

Tanya Sharpe encountered the same phenomenon last year as she was conducting research on the sociocultural factors that influence coping strategies of Black family members and friends of homicide victims.

“This was early on in the pandemic in 2020,” says Sharpe, an associate professor at the Factor-Inwentash Faculty of Social Work. “The U.S. began to capture data by race, which is a standard practice in the U.S., but not so much in Canada. They began to show that many of the same neighbourhoods that experienced the highest rates of homicide violence and victimization – neighbourhoods that are disproportionately Black and Latino in the U.S. – were also experiencing the highest rates of COVID-19.”

She and her team then examined determinants that often lead to health issues in racialized populations – inadequate housing, education and low-paying jobs that don’t include paid leave.

“When you consider these factors, you make this fundamental connection about the impact of structural inequities on some of our most vulnerable populations,” says Sharpe, who joined U of T in 2018 after 11 years at the University of Maryland in Baltimore and is the founder and director for The Centre for Research and Innovation for Black Survivors of Homicide Victims (The CRIB).

“In Canada, vulnerable populations impacted by structural inequities are disproportionately Black and Indigenous people who often do not have the luxury of social distancing from family members when there are five or six people in one household, or don’t have access to clean drinking water to wash their hands to protect themselves from the virus.

She adds that racialized Canadians “are so often the front-line workers, the nurses and personal support workers in nursing homes and the cashiers in the grocery store who are taking care of everyone else and exposing themselves day-to-day, putting themselves at risk to simply survive.”

Sharpe emphasizes that the disproportionate number of COVID-19 cases among racialized communities is simply the latest chapter in a long history of systemic racism.

“The pandemic has forced all of society to see what I think people purposely choose not to see: structural inequity that is in fact inherently violent and can no longer be ignored.”

She welcomes the vaccine but is leery of the oft-used expression “getting back to normal.”

“I don’t think we should ever go back to normal,” she says. “The unearthing of the structural inequities suggests that, yes, we need to make sure everyone is vaccinated, but what are we going to do about the systemic racism of inequities that continue to plague Black and Indigenous communities?”

Sharpe says it’s essential to address the lack and accessibility of race-based data collected by Canadian governments.

Ultimately, it’s data, she says, that enables policy-makers to make change that can help to address structural inequities.

“They need the information. Because in the absence of data, if you don’t count it, it doesn’t count.”

> Click here to read the full story by Paul Fraumeni in U of T News

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