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February 27, 2021

A Conversation with Dr. Eric Goosby: The Window of Opportunity

By Youmna Al-Madani (SFS’24)

On February 23, Dr. Eric Goosby, a notable infectious disease expert, joined Georgetown University’s Conversations in Global Health class. Throughout the discussion, Dr. Goosby offered critical insights into his service as the UN special envoy on tuberculosis, a member of President Joe Biden’s COVID-19 Task Force, a leader in President Obama’s implementation of the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, and the founding director of the Ryan White CARE Act.

During the conversation, Dr. Goosby noted that “COVID opened a real window of opportunity,” urging for a global movement to hold governments accountable to pandemic preparedness. COVID-19 has shed light on alarming health care inequities. With these inequities, we often rely on government assistance to provide a social safety net. However, many developed countries, with the medical and technological resources to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, have been unsuccessful. This lack of preparedness and initiative has exacerbated the issues of poverty, sanitation, and sustainability among marginalized and poor communities.

As the UN special envoy on tuberculosis, Dr. Goosby explained the necessity of framing the approach to ending tuberculosis as one that considered other social drivers of tuberculosis, as opposed to one that was simply health-focused. This same approach must be applied to COVID-19, particularly concerning governmental health care policy efforts. Health care policy needs to be reevaluated and constructed to mitigate the spread of health care crises, with a particular focus on the social inequities and disparities driving their growth.

Our broader health care and development agenda must acknowledge systemic injustice, histories of imperialism and colonialism, and the intersections of race and poverty. Without an understanding of the social drivers of our socioeconomic inequities, mitigating a public health crisis cannot be successful. Thus, health care policy must be meticulous, multifaceted, and inclusive. This endeavor allows us to address the oppressive systems that have contributed to poverty and inequality in marginalized communities, illustrating which key resources are needed for these communities to succeed and thrive.

With vaccine distribution underway, the issue of health care inequities resurfaces. Marginalized communities tend to experience negative health outcomes, largely due to health care inaccessibility, food deserts, and environmental concerns. While pinpointing the perfect method of vaccine distribution is difficult, there must be an effort to ensure equitable access to the vaccine. Most essential workers come from marginalized communities; therefore, not only are they susceptible to negative health outcomes, but they are also at greater risk of contracting COVID-19.

In past pandemics, the issues of health care inequities have rarely been addressed. As Dr. Goosby notes, “COVID opened a real window of opportunity.” We can see this opportunity through President Biden’s executive order on racial equity, wherein his administration has focused on advancing equity in health care for all, specifically historically underrepresented and marginalized communities. However, there is still more to do to address the issue of health care inequities. This can only be done with policy that acknowledges and addresses our systems of injustice, histories of imperialism and colonialism, and the intersections of race and poverty.

Youmna Al-Madani (SFS’24) is a first-year student studying international affairs and is a student in the Conversations in Global Health course.