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MIT scholars see lessons and opportunities for US health care | Updated: 2021-04-07 17:24
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A health care worker gives a thumbs up after a person used nasal swab for a self administered test at the new federally funded COVID-19 testing site at the Miami-Dade County Auditorium on July 23, 2020 in Miami, Florida. [Photo/Agencies]

Seven MIT health and health care researchers shared their views on what the COVID-19 pandemic has exposed about the US health care system, according to an article published in MIT News.

Representing the fields of medicine, anthropology, political science, health economics, science writing, and medical humanities, the researchers also expressed their hope for US health care to become more equitable, effective, coherent and prepared for the next pandemic.

"The spread of the virus revealed shortages in basic equipment and hospitals beds, the disproportionate effects of disease on the marginalized, the challenge of prevention rather than cure, the limits of insurance-based models to provide equitable care, and our unacknowledged dependence on the labor of underpaid health care workers," said Dwaipayan Banerjee, associate professor of science, technology, and society.

He further called for a health-care system that properly compensates labor and recognizes health care as a right, rather than a privilege.

Andrea Campbell, professor of political science, agreed with Banerjee about the need for public-health infrastructure investment, but she attached the greatest significance of the pandemic in revealing the racism rooted in American social and economic policy.

"There is little point in improving medical or public-health systems if we fail to address the structural drivers of poor health," she said.

Jonathan Gruber, Ford Professor of Economics, pointed out the Covid-19 pandemic highlights the importance of universal, non-discriminatory health insurance coverage in the United States.

"The primary source of health insurance for Americans is their job, and with unemployment reaching its highest level since the Great Depression, tens of millions of workers lost, at least temporarily, their insurance coverage," he said.

Jeffrey Harris, professor emeritus of economics and a practicing physician, suggested that the pandemic has revealed the poor coordination of health care providers and ineffective vaccine distribution.

"We need to move toward a genuine health care system that can withstand shocks like the COVID-19 pandemic...We need to strengthen our worldwide pandemic and global health crisis alert systems,'' he added.

Erica Caple James, associate professor of medical anthropology and urban studies, questioned whether decisions on treatment and vaccinations are politicized or even racialized.

"Although no single change will address all of these disparities in health status and access to treatment, municipal, state, and federal policies aimed at improving the American health infrastructure...could greatly improve health for all,'' she said.

Seth Mnookin, professor of science writing, believes racism is to blame for a significantly higher risk of COVID-19 infection, hospitalization and death among minority populations.

"Our health care systems should take a much more active role in advocating for racial and socioeconomic justice", he said.

Apart from observing poor coordination and extreme inequality of America's health care systems, Parag Pathak, Class of 1922 professor of economics, also saw the need for international cooperation.

"It will be imperative that we continue to invest in developing the global infrastructure to facilitate greater cooperation for the next pandemic," he said.

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