Healthcare is Central to Civil Rights

By Arturo Brito, MD, MPH, President and CEO, Children's Health Fund
Girl being hugged

“Of all the forms of inequality, injustice in health is the most shocking and the most inhuman because it often results in physical death.” – Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Nearly sixty years later, the words of our great civil rights leader still ring true. The abundant advances in healthcare and medical science that are readily available to so many people who have health insurance and comfortable incomes may have only deepened the disparities that have always existed. In the midst of plenty, some people go without. It is an injustice that in the United States so many children lack the necessary healthcare and social services to be as healthy as possible. Children’s Health Fund—a nonprofit that strives to break down the barriers that prevent children and families living in under-resourced communities across America from receiving quality, comprehensive healthcare—shares Dr. King’s vision of “a more diverse America where all people enjoy the benefits of equality.”

For far too long, the American healthcare system has been deeply divided along the lines of race. Despite spending more per capita on healthcare for children than any other country, the United States has the highest infant and child mortality rates among developed nations. Disparities are even more alarming: Black children are more than twice as likely as non-Hispanic white children to die before their first birthday. And the COVID-19 pandemic has made matters worse, disproportionately affecting Black, Indigenous, and People of Color. It is clear the demons of inequality continue to haunt us. As a community pediatrician, I have seen firsthand those demons as too many children are marginalized by unjust systems.

That is why as we celebrate the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Children’s Health Fund is renewing its commitment to advancing one of the forgotten pillars of the civil rights movement: the idea that healthcare is a basic human right, regardless of race or economic situation.

By supporting a coalition of National Network programs, Children’s Health Fund is working hard to build a future in which all children in the United States get the care and support they need to thrive. Through mobile and fixed-site medical clinics, we are delivering quality healthcare and social support directly to children and families where they live, learn, and play.  And with ongoing support from a generous American public, we will continue to pursue our goal of transforming local and national healthcare systems to help serve children in a more equitable and humane way.

As we consider the dignity, fairness, equality and respect that Martin Luther King, Jr. so eloquently sought for all children, let us use the opportunity provided by this public holiday to ask ourselves, “What can I do today to drive meaningful change?” Equal access for all to quality, comprehensive healthcare is a good place to start.

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