As we approach the end of February, Black History Month in the U.S., we celebrate the rich culture and achievements of Black Americans. At the same time, we acknowledge the barriers to racial equity and the disproportionate toll of the COVID-19 pandemic on Black and minority communities.
On Monday, February 22, the United States surpassed half a million COVID-19 related deaths, far more than any other country in the world and twice as many as in Brazil, the country with the second highest number of coronavirus deaths. President Joseph R. Biden Jr. reflected on the lives lost: “That’s more Americans who have died in one year in this pandemic than in World War One, World War Two, and the Vietnam War combined. That’s more lives lost to this virus than any other nation on Earth.” To date, Black Americans have been almost twice as likely to die from COVID-19 as their White counterparts, and Latinos have been 2.3 times as likely. American Indians and Alaska Natives have suffered the worst disparities: compared to White Americans, this population is almost twice as likely to contract COVID-19, 3.7 times more likely to require hospitalization, and 2.4 times as likely to die from COVID-19.
This week we are pleased to provide highlights from our clients and our team, including efforts to achieve health equity, as well as our regular update on COVID-19. Please click here for earlier issues of our COVID-19 Briefings.
Reflections on Black History Month by Robert Mallett
Ever since I was a teenager and began a more critical examination of American history, I’ve always thought of February as the month when the country emphasizes Blacks in the American story. Carter G. Woodson, known as the “father of Black history,” worked tirelessly to have the achievements of Black people recognized and validated and was a key figure in the creation of Black History Month. However, this month of tribute is not a stand-alone chapter, but as much a part of the American storybook as George and Martha Washington.
As CEO of Rabin Martin, I recognize and embrace the opportunities that lie ahead in elevating Black voices. There are so many Black voices that need amplification, those who have labored long and well in the field. At the same time, it is critical to nurture the next generation. This Saturday, February 27, I will be participating in a “C-Suite Roundtable” at the University of Southern California Marshall School of Business’ FORWARD Summit. The Roundtable will focus on highlighting Black and Latinx business leaders across industries who will tell their stories, with the goal of cultivating young leaders of color. I look forward to a spirited and candid discussion on how to achieve greater diversity and inclusion in the business community and beyond.
Merck for Mothers Expands Safer Childbirth Cities Initiative
Merck for Mothers, in collaboration with co-funders, recently announced the second cohort of its Safer Childbirth Cities initiative. An additional nine U.S. cities (bringing the total to 19) are now participating in this nationwide effort to improve maternal health, reduce racial disparities, and make the U.S. a safer and more equitable place to give birth. Shockingly, Black women in the U.S. are three to four times more likely to die from complications of pregnancy and childbirth than White women.
The initiative is supporting local solutions that bring community-based organizations and health systems together to support pregnant and postpartum people. The focus is on holistic ways to provide care to families, including home visiting and support from doulas (trained companions who provide guidance during labor and beyond) as well as maternal mental health. To date, the Safer Childbirth Cities Initiative has helped create new models of care that will hopefully expand across the country. Rabin Martin is proud to support this innovative program.
Dr. Mary-Ann Etiebet Discusses Need for Health Equity in Maternal Healthcare
In an interview with PEOPLE, Dr. Mary-Ann Etiebet, Lead and Executive Director of Merck for Mothers, spoke of the disproportionately high rates of maternal mortality in the U.S., particularly for women of color. In “Racial Disparities in Healthcare Have Led to High Maternal Mortality Rates — What One Doctor Is Doing About It,” Dr. Etiebet comments: “Pregnancy has moved from being a joyful event to something that many Black women now fear.”
Mary-Ann highlighted the importance of listening to women and empowering them with more information throughout their pregnancy. She noted that systemic racism is also a factor contributing to the problem of poor maternal health and disparities: “The responses and solutions to systemic racism have to be comprehensive…and have to be incorporated early, into med school, residency training, and beyond.” She emphasized the importance of birth equity and the need to “shift the conversation so the responsibility is placed not on the woman, but on her care team…and look at how racism affects institutional aspects of giving birth.”
Striving to Accelerate Diagnosis for Children with a Rare Disease
Sunday, February 28, marks World Rare Disease Day, a day to raise awareness of rare diseases — which affect more than 300 million people worldwide — and their impact on patients’ lives. To mark the occasion, the Global Commission to End the Diagnostic Odyssey for Children with a Rare Disease — a multidisciplinary group of rare disease advocates, researchers, physicians, and technologists — published a Progress Update, outlining the group’s work over the past two years.
Since its launch in 2018, the Global Commission has made significant progress toward harnessing technology to achieve a timely, accurate diagnosis through two pilot projects in the U.S. and Spain. In addition, the Global Commission just launched its first campaign (San Diego, California) to raise awareness of rare disease as a consideration for parents searching for a diagnosis for their child. The Global Commission is co-chaired by Takeda, Microsoft, and EURORDIS-Rare Diseases Europe. Rabin Martin serves as the Secretariat.
Spotlight on DE&I: Ash Rishi, Founder, Demand Diversity
At Rabin Martin, we believe that Diversity, Equity & Inclusion (DE&I) is foundational to achieving high quality, respectful, culturally responsive patient-centered care – an imperative to achieving health equity. As part of this journey, we are hosting a series of “DE+Ialogues,” seeking to highlight the lived experiences of people across industries who have challenged the status quo.
As part of our Black History Month programming, we were excited to have Ashish Rishi, Founder, Demand Diversity, join us to discuss the work he and others are doing to promote health equity across the R&D value chain. Ash spoke about the lack of diversity in clinical trials and the implications for equitable access to care. He noted the need for more diverse principal investigators and clinical trial recruiters, more inclusive protocol designs, and more creative community-centered approaches to clinical trial recruitment. He added that it is crucial to consider opportunities to elevate diversity at every stage of product development, from research to commercialization. Right now, as multiple COVID-19 vaccines are already approved but vaccine hesitancy remains a serious concern, Ash stressed the importance of “engaging the disengaged.”
Demand Diversity is a campaign calling for industry to enhance representation in clinical research. Learn more about the campaign here.
Spotlight on DE&I: Afua Basoah Joins Healthcare Communications Association Management Board
This week, Rabin Martin’s Afua Basoah, Vice President and Head, London Office, was invited to join the HCA (Healthcare Communications Association) Management Board as its Non-Executive Director & DE&I advisor. HCA is a non-profit membership organization comprising in-house teams, agencies, civil society, and individuals working in healthcare communications in the U.K. and globally. Afua will support HCA leadership in their work to help build organizational capacity for companies to leverage their strengths and “walk the talk” in DE&I.
Jeff Sturchio Speaks with the Page Society on COVID-19 Vaccination
On Thursday, February 11, Rabin Martin’s Chairman, Dr. Jeffrey L. Sturchio, participated in a conversation hosted by the Arthur W. Page Society – a membership organization for senior public relations and corporate communications executives and educators. As part of “COVID-19 Vaccine Policy & Its Implications,” Jeff spoke alongside Eileen Sheil, Vice President of Communications, Medtronic, to discuss how communications leaders can guide their organizations toward an appropriate vaccine policy, given the approvals and deployment of new COVID-19 vaccines.
Jeff provided his perspective on how companies can help employees overcome vaccine hesitancy (by listening to the concerns of community members, working with trusted messengers, and focusing on transparency, accuracy, and consistency in communications) and how organizations should focus on prioritizing the health and safety of their employees as return to work becomes more widespread. He noted how “the coronavirus pandemic has been a magnifier of inequality among communities” and cited The Lancet’s comment in December 2020 that, “COVID-19 is a global health emergency that demands a global solution – no community is safe from SARS-CoV-2 unless all communities are protected.”
The U.S. accounts a quarter of global cases, reporting 28,363,932 cases and 506,807 deaths.
Through sustained containment efforts, the rate of new cases of COVID-19 globally has fallen for the sixth consecutive week. Vaccine rollout is helping control those numbers, leading some countries to consider lifting their lockdowns. On Tuesday, February 23, U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson released a four-staged plan to end the country’s social distancing restrictions by mid-Summer. In response to criticism that even a staged plan is too ambitious given the spread of virus variants, Prime Minister Johnson promised to make decisions based on “data not dates,” acknowledging the need for flexibility to respond to the pandemic.
In the U.S., against the backdrop of the grim milestone of over half a million lives lost, cautious optimism is emerging around the epidemic’s trajectory. The past few weeks have seen declines in infections, hospitalizations, and deaths: for the first time in months, the average number of daily infections has remained below 100,000. Vaccination rates are also on the rise, with 13.6 percent of the total U.S. population receiving at least one dose. Public health experts caution the country to remain vigilant: “It’s encouraging to see these trends coming down, but they’re coming down from an extraordinarily high place,” said Dr. Rochelle Walensky, Director, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). “We can’t let our guard down…We have to continue with our current mitigation measures. And we have to continue getting vaccinated as soon as that vaccine is available to us.”
Global pandemic spread (Johns Hopkins University)
WHO COVID-19 Vaccine Equity Declaration
In January, as vaccines began to be approved around the world, WHO issued a call to all countries to work in solidarity to accelerate equitable distribution of COVID-19 vaccines. The COVID-19 Vaccine Equity Declaration calls for nations to begin vaccinating high-risk populations – healthcare workers and older people – within the first 100 days of the year. The Declaration petitions world leaders to increase contributions to the COVAX facility, a global mechanism for pooled procurement and equitable distribution of COVID-19 vaccines, and to work with WHO to prepare primary healthcare systems to distribute the vaccines.
From the Experts
“This [more than 500,000 U.S. deaths] is the worst thing that’s happened to this country with regard to the health of the nation in over 100 years.”
Dr. Anthony Fauci, Director, National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Disease
Monday, February 22
“Because of [variants], we are entering a new phase of the pandemic, from which a third wave may emerge. So we must proceed wisely and carefully so that a third wave does not necessitate a new complete shutdown.”
Angela Merkel, Chancellor, Germany
Wednesday, February 24
“They [the CDC] have been diminished. I think they’ve been muzzled — that science hasn’t been heard. This top tier agency, world-renowned, hasn’t really been appreciated over the last four years and really markedly over the last year or so. I have to fix that.”
Dr. Rochelle Walensky, Director, CDC
Wednesday, February 24
“Today is a major first step towards realizing our shared vision of vaccine equity, but it’s just the beginning. We still have a lot of work to do with governments and manufacturers to ensure that vaccination of health workers and older people is underway in all countries within the first 100 days of this year.”
Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General, WHO
Wednesday, February 24
“In the days ahead, frontline workers will begin to receive vaccines, and the next phase in the fight against this disease can begin – the ramping up of the largest immunization campaign in history. Each step on this journey brings us further along the path to recovery for the billions of children and families affected around the world.”
Henrietta Fore, Director, UNICEF
Wednesday, February 24
What We’re Reading
- Five Influential Black Americans Who Helped Shape Global Health – Anderson Alleyne, Global Health Council
- Biden’s Straight-Talking CDC Director Has Long Used Data To Save Lives – Cary Goldberg, National Public Radio
- Biden Orders Sweeping Review of U.S. Supply Chain Weak Spots – David J. Lynch, The Washington Post
- Studies Examine Variant Surging in California, and the News Isn’t Good – Carl Zimmer, The New York Times
- My Personal Journey to the COVID Vaccine – Gina Brown, Southern AIDS Coalition
- The Scientist Who’s Been Right About COVID-19 Vaccines Predicts What’s Next – Julia Belluz, Vox
- Backed by Google, Epidemiologists Launch a Sweeping COVID-19 Data Platform – Katie Palmer, STAT News
Reports from International Governments and Bodies
- WHO COVID-19 Information and Guidance
- WHO Weekly Epidemiological Update: February 23
- WHO Weekly Operational Update: February 22
- CDC Coronavirus Resource Page
- COVID-19 Health Systems Response Monitor
- NCD Alliance COVID resources relevant to NCDs
Funding and Policy Trackers
- International Monetary Fund Policy Tracker
- Kaiser Family Foundation Coronavirus Policy Tracker
- U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation Corporate Aid Tracker
- Devex Interactive Funding Tracker
Resource Pages and Market Research Literature
- JAMA Resource Center
- The Lancet COVID-19 Resource Centre
- 2019 Novel Coronavirus Research Compendium (NCRC)
- National Academy of Medicine COVID-19 News and Resources
- WIPO COVID-19 IP Policy Tracker
- The COVID Tracking Project
- PharmaIntelligence: Coronavirus – What will the Impact Be?
- Health Affairs Resource Center
- STAT News COVID-19 Tracker
- Global Health NOW’s COVID-19 Expert Reality Check
- International Association of National Public Health Institutes COVID-19 Resources
- Center for Strategic and International Studies The Reopening and Take as Directed Coronavirus Crisis Update Podcast
- Primary Health Care Performance Initiative Forum
- U.S. Global Leadership Coalition COVID-19 Issue Briefs
- Prevent Epidemics Weekly Science Review
- COVID-19 Watch Weekly Updates
For more information or should you have any questions, please contact us.
About Rabin Martin
Rabin Martin is a global health strategy firm working at the intersection of private sector capabilities and unmet public health needs. Rooted in our mission to improve health for underserved populations, we design strategies, programs and partnerships that both deliver public health impact and drive business results. We leverage our deep knowledge and networks across a wide range of geographies and health areas to develop tailored solutions for every client engagement. We have helped many clients create bold global health initiatives and innovative multi-sector partnerships. Our specific areas of expertise include infectious disease and vaccines, non-communicable diseases, rare diseases, maternal and child health, and universal health coverage. Our clients and partners include multinational health care companies, multilateral institutions, government agencies, large foundations and leading NGOs. Rabin Martin is part of the Omnicom Public Relations Group.
About Omnicom Public Relations Group
Omnicom Public Relations Group is a global collective of three of the top global public relations agencies worldwide and eight specialist agencies in public affairs, marketing to women, fashion, global health strategy and corporate social responsibility. It encompasses more than 6,000 public relations professionals in more than 330 offices worldwide who provide their expertise to companies, government agencies, NGOs and nonprofits across a wide range of industries. Omnicom Public Relations Group delivers for clients through a relentless focus on talent, continuous pursuit of innovation and a culture steeped in collaboration. Omnicom Public Relations Group is part of the DAS Group of Companies, a division of Omnicom Group Inc. that includes more than 200 companies in a wide range of marketing disciplines including advertising, public relations, healthcare, customer relationship management, events, promotional marketing, branding and research.