By Tamsin Zandstra
Medical misogyny, gaslighting and discrimination have been increasingly discussed since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic and are heavily associated with Long COVID.
People of color, in particular Black and Latino men, are among the groups impacted the most by these disparities. Communities of color have carried a disproportionate burden of the COVID-19 pandemic, often working in lower paying, public facing jobs which continued to operate despite the lockdowns and where working accommodations have been limited. Many of these individuals often live in lower income communities, with less access to affordable healthcare and where the risk of contracting COVID-19 is higher and thus the risk of developing Long COVID is accordingly higher. A poll conducted in 2020 by the African American Research Collection found that Black, Native and Latino Americans reported less access to primary care doctors than their White counterparts. Furthermore, Black, Latino and Indian American individuals are circumstantially predisposed to health conditions including lung disease and hypertension as a result of socio-economic status, working and living conditions which can make such individuals more vulnerable to developing Long COVID.
Gender-bias and medical misogyny are also challenges associated with Long COVID. Historically, women have often been belittled or dismissed as hysterical and paranoid about their symptoms. However, according to the Center for Disease Control women are diagnosed with ME/CFS at three to four times the rate of men, which may suggest that women also have a higher risk of Long COVID, due to the close relation the two diseases appear to have. This gender-bias is not something that exists purely surrounding Long COVID but in healthcare in general. In 2019 TODAY conducted a survey which found that more than 50% of women, in comparison with 33.33% of men, believe that gender discrimination in patient care is a pressing issue. 20% of women say that they have felt ignored or dismissed by healthcare providers and 17% say that they have been treated differently as a result of their gender as compared with 14% and 6% of men respectively.
Medical misogyny is not just an issue in the United States but globally. The Guardian recently shared an article expressing the personal experiences of several women who faced medical misogyny relating to Long COVID. Dr. Stephen Philips and Professor Michelle Williams from Harvard University have said that the US medical system “has a long history of minimizing women’s symptoms and dismissing or misdiagnosing their condition as psychological” sharing in the New England Journal of Medicine that “women of color with Long COVID, in particular, have been disbelieved and denied tests that their white counterparts have received.”
The COVID-19 pandemic has stressed the necessity for the medical community to modernize its approach to patient care, taking into consideration the unique experiences of different genders, sexes, races and ethnicities, their socio-economic status and working conditions. A lack of knowledge and consideration for people’s unique circumstances is leading to unnecessary medical discrimination. Long COVID is also a condition that presents differently for many people, and the lack of a clear diagnosis makes it easier for doctors to be dismissive. Long COVID highlights the value of empathy in our healthcare system and the tragic and disproportionate effects that can occur without it.