America’s history of racism was a preexisting condition for COVID-19

A Louisiana pastor prays as his parishioners die, first from cancer and now from COVID-19. An Indigenous community in New Mexico lacks adequate health care as the death toll mounts. A sick hospital worker in New Jersey frets about infecting others in her heavily populated neighborhood.



a group of people standing in front of a mirror posing for the camera: Parishioners stand in Our Lady of Grace Catholic Church in Reserve, LA, during a sermon by Rev. Fr. Christopher Chike Amadi.


© Jasper Colt, USA TODAY
Parishioners stand in Our Lady of Grace Catholic Church in Reserve, LA, during a sermon by Rev. Fr. Christopher Chike Amadi.

As the country cries out for a vaccine and a return to normal, lost in the policy debates is the reality that COVID-19 kills far more people of color than white Americans. This isn’t a matter of coincidence, poor choices or bad luck — it’s by design. 

A team of USA TODAY reporters explored how the policies of the past and present have made Black, Asian, Hispanic and Indigenous Americans prime targets for COVID-19. They found:

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  • America’s education and economic systems are still unequal, disproportionately leaving people of color out of higher-wage jobs. When COVID-19 struck, more people of color were serving as essential workers directly in the path of the virus.

Put simply, America’s history of racism was itself a preexisting condition.

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Of the 10 U.S. counties with the highest death rates from COVID-19, seven have populations where people of color make up the majority, according to data compiled by USA TODAY. Of the top 50 counties with the highest death rates, 31 are populated mostly by people of color. 

“COVID-19 has brought out into the open, with painful clarity, these divisions in our society that have been there for a long time but, for one reason or another, people were able to overlook them,” said Philip Landrigan, director of the Global Public Health Program at Boston College.

With nearly 1,000 people a day dying from the virus and scientists scrambling to grasp exactly how the virus spreads and kills, federal and state data has not provided enough demographic detail to show the full impact on communities of color. The race and ethnicity of people who contract the virus is known in 52% of cases, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

But study after study has shown clear patterns in whom the virus kills.

How systemic racism led to COVID-19’s rapid spread among people of color

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Black people are more than twice as likely to die from the virus than white people, and Hispanics and Native Americans are 1.5 times more likely to die, according to The COVID Tracking Project. 

“You can’t change the fact that America is so segregated and that people of color tend to live in communities where the environmental conditions are worse, and that can increase your risk of heart disease or lung disease and diabetes,” said Richard Besser, former acting director of the CDC and president and CEO of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the nation’s largest

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dentistry | Definition, History, & Fields

Early dentistry

Dentistry, in some form, has been practiced since ancient times. For example, Egyptian skulls dating from 2900 to 2750 bce contain evidence of small holes in the jaw in the vicinity of a tooth’s roots. Such holes are believed to have been drilled to drain abscesses. In addition, accounts of dental treatment appear in Egyptian scrolls dating from 1500 bce. It is thought that the Egyptians practiced oral surgery perhaps as early as 2500 bce, although evidence for this is minimal. An early attempt at tooth replacement dates to Phoenicia (modern Lebanon) around 600 bce, where missing teeth were replaced with animal teeth and were bound into place with cord.

True restorative dentistry began with the Etruscans, who lived in the area of what is today central and northern Italy. Numerous dental bridges and partial dentures of gold have been found in Etruscan tombs, which date to about 500 bce. The Romans, who conquered the Etruscans, adopted Etruscan culture, and dentistry became a regular part of Roman medical practice. The Greeks also practiced some form of oral medicine, including tooth extractions, from the time of Hippocrates, around 400 bce.

In the Eastern world, dentistry had a totally different history. There is evidence that the early Chinese practiced some restorative dentistry as early as the year 200 bce, using silver amalgam as fillings. Oral medicine was part of the regular medical practice in other early Asian civilizations, such as those in India and Japan.

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Because of the proscription in the Qurʾan, the sacred scripture of Islam, against mutilating the body, surgery was not practiced in Islamic countries. Instead, reliance was placed upon healing through the use of herbs and medicines; preventive dentistry through strict adherence to oral hygiene became paramount. The writings of early Arabic physicians, such as Avicenna and Abū al-Qāsim, show that scaling and cleaning of teeth were practiced. Extractions were rare and were performed only when a tooth had been loosened.

Development of dentistry in Europe

With the demise of the western Roman Empire about the year 475 ce, medicine in Europe declined into a torpor that would last for almost a thousand years. About the only places where medicine or surgery was practiced were monasteries, and monks were aided in their surgical ministrations by the local barbers, who went to the monasteries to cut the monks’ hair and shave the monks’ beards. In 1163 a church council at Tours, France, ordered that henceforth no monks or priests were to practice any surgery, since it was felt that the shedding of blood was incompatible with the holy office of the clergy. Thus, the only people who had any rudimentary knowledge of surgery were the barbers, and they stepped into the breach, calling themselves barber-surgeons. They practiced simple dentistry, including extractions and cleaning of teeth. In the 1600s a number of barber-surgeons began restricting their

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history of medicine | History & Facts

Early medicine and folklore

Unwritten history is not easy to interpret, and, although much may be learned from a study of the drawings, bony remains, and surgical tools of early humans, it is difficult to reconstruct their mental attitude toward the problems of disease and death. It seems probable that, as soon as they reached the stage of reasoning, they discovered by the process of trial and error which plants might be used as foods, which of them were poisonous, and which of them had some medicinal value. Folk medicine or domestic medicine, consisting largely in the use of vegetable products, or herbs, originated in this fashion and still persists.

But that is not the whole story. Humans did not at first regard death and disease as natural phenomena. Common maladies, such as colds or constipation, were accepted as part of existence and dealt with by means of such herbal remedies as were available. Serious and disabling diseases, however, were placed in a very different category. These were of supernatural origin. They might be the result of a spell cast upon the victim by some enemy, visitation by a malevolent demon, or the work of an offended god who had either projected some object—a dart, a stone, a worm—into the body of the victim or had abstracted something, usually the soul of the patient. The treatment then applied was to lure the errant soul back to its proper habitat within the body or to extract the evil intruder, be it dart or demon, by counterspells, incantations, potions, suction, or other means.

One curious method of providing the disease with means of escape from the body was by making a hole, 2.5 to 5 cm across, in the skull of the victim—the practice of trepanning, or trephining. Trepanned skulls of prehistoric date have been found in Britain, France, and other parts of Europe and in Peru. Many of them show evidence of healing and, presumably, of the patient’s survival. The practice still exists among some tribal people in parts of Algeria, in Melanesia, and perhaps elsewhere, though it is fast becoming extinct.

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Magic and religion played a large part in the medicine of prehistoric or early human society. Administration of a vegetable drug or remedy by mouth was accompanied by incantations, dancing, grimaces, and all the tricks of the magician. Therefore, the first doctors, or “medicine men,” were witch doctors or sorcerers. The use of charms and talismans, still prevalent in modern times, is of ancient origin.

Apart from the treatment of wounds and broken bones, the folklore of medicine is probably the most ancient aspect of the art of healing, for primitive physicians showed their wisdom by treating the whole person, soul as well as body. Treatments and medicines that produced no physical effects on the body could nevertheless make a patient feel better when both healer and patient believed in their efficacy. This so-called

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Collections: Images from the History of Medicine (IHM) – Digital Collections

Collections: Images from the History of Medicine (IHM) – Digital Collections – National Library of Medicine Search Results
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The History of Medicine: 7 Surprising Facts

Maintaining a comfortable state of health is a goal shared by much of the world’s population past and present, thus the history of health and medicine weaves a thread connecting us with our ancestors’ human experiences. Yet it’s easy to assume that studying it involves either celebrating the ‘eureka moments’ of well-known heroes or laughing at outdated therapies. But, as I set out to show in my book, The History of Medicine in 100 Facts (Amberley Publishing, 2015), medicine’s past features plenty of lesser-known but equally fascinating episodes…

1

Some of the earliest named doctors were women

Saqqara is a huge archaeological site about 20 miles south of present-day Cairo. Five millennia ago it was the necropolis for the ancient Egyptian city of Memphis, and remains home to one of the oldest surviving buildings in the world – the step pyramid of Djoser.

A nearby tomb reveals the image of Merit Ptah, the first female doctor known by name. She lived in approximately 2,700 BC and hieroglyphs on the tomb describe her as ‘the Chief Physician’. That’s pretty much all that’s known about her career, but the inscription reveals that it was possible for women to hold high-status medical roles in Ancient Egypt.

Some 200 years later another doctor, Peseshet, was immortalised on a monument in the tomb of her son, Akhet-Hetep (aka Akhethetep), a high priest. Peseshet held the title ‘overseer of female physicians’, suggesting that women doctors weren’t just occasional one-offs. Peseshet herself was either one of them or a director responsible for their organisation and training.

Although the barriers of time and interpretation make it difficult to reconstruct the day-to-day practice of Merit Ptah and Peseshet, female doctors appear to have been a respected part of ancient Egyptian society.

An anatomical chart of the human body, from the 15th-century Tractatabus de Pestilentia (Treatise on Plague). (Photo by The Art Archive/Alamy)

2

Cataract surgery was possible in the sixth century BC

One of the oldest known medical textbooks is the Sushruta Samhita, written in Sanskrit in India. Its exact date is tentative, as no original version survives and it is only known from later copies, but the current consensus is that it was written in around 600 BC. Sushruta is thought to have been a physician and teacher working in the North Indian city of Benares (now Varanasi in the state of Uttar Pradesh). His Samhita – a compilation of knowledge – provides detailed information on medicine, surgery, pharmacology and patient management.

Sushruta advises his students that however well read they are, they are not competent to treat disease until they have practical experience. Surgical incisions were to be tried out on the skin of fruits, while carefully extracting fruit seeds enabled the student to develop the skill of removing foreign bodies from flesh. They also practised on dead animals and on leather bags filled with water, before being let loose on real patients.

Among its many surgical descriptions, the Sushruta Samhita documents cataract surgery. The patient had to look at the tip of his or her nose while the surgeon, holding the eyelids apart with thumb and

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Islamic Medicine – History of Medicine

One of these important fields was Islamic medicine, which saw medical practice begin to resemble our modern systems. Certainly, this period of the history of medicine was centuries ahead of Europe, still embedded in the Dark Ages.

Central to Islamic medicine was belief in the Qur’an and Hadiths, which stated that Muslims had a duty to care for the sick and this was often referred to as “Medicine of the Prophet.” According to the sayings of the Prophet Muhammed, he believed that Allah had sent a cure for every ailment and that it was the duty of Muslims to take care of the body and spirit. This certainly falls under the remit of improving the quality of healthcare and ensuring that there is access for all, with many of the Hadiths laying down guidelines for a holistic approach to health.

Initially, in the early days of Islam, there was some debate about whether Islamic physicians should use Greek, Chinese and Indian medical techniques, seen by many as pagan. After intense debate, the Islamic physicians were given free rein to study and adopt any techniques they wished.

Islamic Medicine, Hospitals and Qualifications

The major contribution of the Islamic Age to the history of medicine was the establishment of hospitals, paid for by the charitable donations known as Zakat tax. There is evidence that these hospitals were in existence by the 8th Century and they were soon widespread across the Islamic world, with accounts and inventories providing evidence of at least 30.

These hospitals, as well as providing care to the sick on site, sent physicians and midwives into the poorer, rural areas, and also provided a place for physicians and other staff to study and research. These hospitals varied in role, some aimed at serving the general population, with others providing specific services, such as the care of lepers, the disabled and the infirm.

The system of educating physicians was well structured, usually on a tutorage basis, and the reputation of the individual physicians in certain areas ensured that students would travel from city to city to learn with the best. In addition, the Islamic physicians were meticulous with their recordkeeping, partly as a way to spread and share knowledge, but also to provide notes for peer review in case the physician was accused of malpractice.

The Islamic Physicians and Their Discoveries

Many Islamic physicians made outstanding discoveries in all aspects of medicine during the Islamic Golden Age, building upon the knowledge of Galen and the Greek and adding their own discoveries. The most notable Islamic scholar in the history of medicine was al-Razi.

The Father of Islamic Medicine – Al Razi (rhazes)

Al-Razi In Gerardus Cremonensis 1250
Al Razi Receuil de traite de medecine translated by Gerard de Cremone Second half of 13th century (Public Domain)

Al-Razi, known to the Europeans as Rhazes (may be spelt Rhases, Rasis, Rasi or ar-Razi) (850 – 923), was at the forefront of Islamic research into medicine. A prolific writer, he produced over 200 books about medicine and philosophy,

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