Carolyn Berkowitz, President and CEO
Dr. Anthony Fauci in a Washington Nationals mask
I believe in science. That’s why I was so interested to hear what Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, had to say to business leaders in his recent US Chamber of Commerce Foundation webcast. In conversation with Chamber president Suzanne Clark, Fauci presented his thoughts and responded to questions about the unique need for corporations to help curb COVID-19, address racial inequity in healthcare, and support public health.
Grateful for the partnership with the private sector to advance medical innovation, Fauci focused additional remarks on the corporate actions he believes are the most urgent to help stem COVID-19 and prevent future health crises.
Invest in Public Health Infrastructure
Fauci called for corporations to invest in public health infrastructure at all levels, which has languished of late. America has been so effective in eliminating disease over the past century, and we’ve allowed our public health infrastructure to decline. Directing corporate resources to rebuilding a vital public health system, especially in underserved communities, is his top priority for the corporate sector.
Right now, the US needs better testing, more contact tracing, increased access to local services, and effective public health education. Fauci believes corporations can address these disparities by ensuring their efforts are specifically focused on underserved communities lacking in these systems and services.
Over the long term, local public health systems must ensure there are quality hospitals and health care services available to all, and that fellow community members serve as messengers and educators to instill trust. And they must focus on low income communities and communities of color.
Nationally, the CDC and other public/private organizations are critical components that must be supported to advance solutions and prepare for future public health crises. Pandemics are of course a global issue, says Fauci, and the US must work globally to exchange information, connect in our responses, and understand our vulnerability when disease may be smoldering in another region of the world. Globally, Fauci believes making corporate investments in the World Health Organization Foundation is vital to support public health security networks.
There is a disproportionate impact and more serious burden of COVID-19 on people of color – specifically Black, Native American and Hispanic people. Fauci shares that there are two primary reasons for this, and suggests corporations have an important role to play in public health equity.
Fauci’s reasoning is that in general, both the economic strata and nature of employment of people of color creates a disproportionately higher risk of infection. More people of color are in front-line and service jobs than white people, and the nature of these jobs requires more public interface. To change this long-term, corporations must more deliberately upskill their workforce, create pathways for salaried professional roles, and focus efforts on education, workforce development, and apprenticeships to allow people of color to climb the economic ladder. For corporations already funding and supporting these areas, they must ensure their resources directly reach communities of color.
Social determinants of disease are historically much worse for people of color and immigrant populations, confirms Fauci, offering a greater chance for more serious outcomes for infection from COVID-19 and more. Corporations must focus their financial and human resources, and their influence, to systematically address and improve these very specific long-term social determinants of health for people of color and low-income communities. Corporations should also flex their advocacy muscles to lobby for more funding for these groups at all levels of government.
As corporate responsibility professionals, we have a unique opportunity to change the short- and long-term trajectory of this pandemic and every other serious disease by investing in the creation of more equitable health care. And finally, says Dr. Fauci, wear a mask and practice social distancing. It works.