Nov 23, 2021

Washington DC : UNPO Kicks Off Campaign to Address Inequalities in Healthcare

Since November 2015, Washington DC has been a proud member of UNPO, in its quest to achieve statehood and representation of its 700,000 odd citizens that are not allowed to elect fully fledged Senators and Congressmen, as well as administer their city and its affairs to their liking. It remains an anachronistic anomaly that 700,000 American citizens, many of whom are taxpayers, are denied a right to have representation and administer most of their city’s affairs in the world’s leading superpower and democracy.

With a majority African American population, and great racial diversity in general, the District of Columbia’s most alarming disparity is in health outcomes. Covid-19 already shone a light on the racial disparities in health outcomes in all of the United States. As part of our Unrepresented Peoples of the USA campaign, UNPO covered the various peoples at risk of disenfranchisement in the USA and now we want to pay particular attention on the public health disparities in the United State’s own capital.

Indeed, DC has some of the highest rates of HIV, cancer and end-stage kidney disease. In Ward 8, a heavy African-American district, HIV rates are comparable to some Southern African countries. Air pollution too is a major problem, with Congress-backed Capitol Power Plant left to power their own building with little concern for the quality of air and externalities that a coal-powered plant in a middle of a dense urban area can cause.

Washington DC has its own auhtority with regards to healthcare, albeit restricted by the US constitution. What UNPO has found alongside our DC member is that when DC citizens are put in charge and given agency over their own policies on healthcare, the results are far more in tune with citizens demands for basic health standards whichshould be guaranteed through fundamental human rights. The vaccination program was hindered, for example, due to poor federal coordination with the DC health authority, and an Atlantic article showed how the vaccine distribution that was left entirely to DC authorities was exponentially more efficient than the federal vaccination programs. Often DC citizens are the victims of externalities they cannot control because Congress has the authority to legislate on major parts of their health policies. This is also evidenced by Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton’s list of bills and amendments introduced or filed by this Congress that sought to block District of Columbia laws and proposed policies, that are more progressive in nature.

Indeed, medical insurance controversies are vast in the American capital. Dr Ashley Elliot details in a video attached how coverage that DC residents enjoy is often rejected by practitioners in the District. Despite the District legislating for larger coverage, Congress continuously blocks it and in general the willingness of DC residents to have a more progressive policy agenda on Public Health. While Washington DC’s mayor and government maximize their competences, statehood would give them access to a range of new powers to combat DC’s health crisis.

It is in this context UNPO, alongside the representation of the District of Columbia and the Rodham Institute at George Washington University, have commenced an international advocacy project to expose how this disenfranchisement and lack of control over their own affairs has a direct link to the American capital’s public health situation. We decided to gather the testimonies of public health professionals that you see embedded with this article and conduct research on the issue of racial health disparities in Washington D.C. with an eye on international law over right to health, and potential policy solutions that the USA could enact themselves.

UNPO believes that by involving the UN and the international community we will shine an even brighter light than previously on the health disparities between races in the capital of the United States, with a hope that the American government upholds its commitment to human rights and democracy. The United States was built on an early conception of self-determination with the concept of “no taxation without representation”. It is high time that the “Taxation Without Representation” regime that its capital suffers from by not having statehood is cast to the history textbooks.

To hear some of the public testimonies on the health of DC citizens by public health professionals, you can watch the videos in our article above and read our upcoming reports on the situation.