Making Health Care for the Most Marginalized a Priority


Lengthy earlier than the present pandemic introduced renewed consideration to well being inequities, Madina Agénor was researching how social inequalities, together with racism and anti-LGBTQ+ discrimination, have an effect on individuals’s well being—and what might be performed to assist all individuals thrive.

Agénor joined the Division of Neighborhood Well being within the College of Arts and Sciences in 2018. A social epidemiologist, she examines how societal elements form well being outcomes amongst marginalized social teams. Particularly, her analysis examines how social inequities associated to race/ethnicity, sexual orientation, and gender identification alone and collectively affect individuals’s entry to life-saving companies—particularly within the areas of sexual and reproductive well being and most cancers prevention and management.

Guided by a priority for understanding how social context shapes the well being of marginalized populations, she has paid significantly shut consideration to how patient-provider interactions, discrimination within the health-care system, and legal guidelines and insurance policies form poor well being outcomes amongst Black ladies and different ladies of coloration; lesbian, bisexual, and queer ladies; and transgender and gender-diverse individuals.

“By focusing particularly on LGBTQ+ individuals of coloration specifically, I can see how sexism, racism, heterosexism, and transphobia intermingle to form their distinctive well being and health-care experiences, and that the distribution of well being and well being care outcomes appears totally different amongst LGBTQ+ individuals of coloration in comparison with their white counterparts,” she mentioned.

“If we’re to advance the well being of your entire LGBTQ+ neighborhood, we have to take significantly that totally different subsets of the inhabitants have totally different experiences and wish totally different interventions that middle their distinctive wants,” she added.

Agénor is the inaugural Gerald R. Gill Assistant Professor of Race, Tradition, and Society. Gill was a beloved and influential historical past professor who taught at Tufts from 1980 till his demise in 2007.

“Professor Gill opened the eyes of tons of if not 1000’s of Tufts college students to African-American historical past and the struggles that proceed right now,” mentioned Billy Jacobson, A90, who helped rally alumni monetary assist for the endowed professorship. “He did so with humor, heat, and, after all, with a peerless information of his material. Professor Gill additionally served as an advisor, each formal and casual, to so many college students. The impression that he had on me is felt to today in deeply private methods.”

Agénor’s profession is equally grounded in empathy and dedicated to advancing fairness. She earned a bachelor’s diploma at Brown College, a Grasp of Public Well being at Columbia College Mailman College of Public Well being and a Physician of Science diploma at Harvard T.H. Chan College of Public Well being. She has additionally accomplished postdoctoral analysis coaching in most cancers prevention as a part of the Harvard Academic Program in Most cancers Prevention and has held a Visiting School Fellowship on the Heart for Interdisciplinary Analysis on AIDS at Yale.

She joined Tufts from Harvard T.H. Chan College of Public Well being, the place she was assistant professor of social and behavioral sciences. Along with her instructing and mentoring of neighborhood well being college students, she is adjunct school within the Division of Obstetrics and Gynecology on the Tufts College of Drugs, the place she mentors medical college students and residents in analysis. She can also be director of the Sexual Well being and Reproductive Experiences (SHARE) Lab, a analysis group involving undergraduate and graduate college students in addition to school collaborators dedicated to advancing fairness in sexual and reproductive well being.

Agénor not too long ago spoke with Tufts Now about how her work embodies a imaginative and prescient for higher well being for all.

Tufts Now: COVID-19 disaster dropped at the fore pervasive well being disparities, underscoring long-standing inequities that particularly have an effect on individuals of coloration. Do you see this as a pivotal second on your work?

As a social epidemiologist, I’ve dedicated my whole profession to analyzing well being inequities and their social determinants. Social epidemiology—an interdisciplinary subject that connects the dots between social and well being inequalities—is just not new. However right now, our voices are magnified by the present context and urgency of COVID-19 and the varied media channels which have proven elevated curiosity within the matters we work on. It’s more and more clear that we’ve quite a bit to supply this specific second.

What makes social epidemiology a very efficient strategy to understanding these pervasive well being disparities?

My work is grounded in intersectionality, an analytical framework developed by Black feminists that got here lengthy earlier than me. Intersectionality, a time period coined by authorized scholar Kimberlé Crenshaw, comes from the work of pioneers like Sojourner Reality, Harriet Tubman, Mary Church Terrell, Barbara Smith, Audre Lorde, Angela Davis, bell hooks, and lots of others who tacked a number of types of social inequality concurrently of their work.

Utilizing an intersectional lens permits me to look at how sexism, heterosexism, racism, and transphobia, amongst others, all contribute to distinctive well being and health-care experiences for multiply marginalized teams similar to Black LGBTQ+ individuals. I believe individuals are realizing right now that there aren’t any fast fixes; we have to carry a big-picture strategy to resolve something as advanced because the social, financial, and well being inequities which have existed for hundreds of years, and that COVID-19 has dropped at the forefront of our public discourse this previous 12 months.

Lately, a lot analysis has been centered on fairness for lesbian, homosexual, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) individuals. What questions curiosity you concerning the LGBTQ+ neighborhood?

I’m significantly fascinated with how bias, stigma, and discrimination undermine entry to and utilization of sexual and reproductive well being and most cancers screening and prevention companies amongst sexual minority ladies and transgender and gender numerous individuals of coloration.

In case you take a look at the literature from possibly 10 or 15 years in the past, a lot of the analysis tended to give attention to white LGBTQ+ populations, and also you had a majority of research that have been largely carried out amongst white, college-educated samples of LGBTQ+ individuals.

By focusing particularly on LGBTQ+ individuals of coloration, I can see how sexism, racism, heterosexism, and transphobia intermingle to form their distinctive well being and well being care experiences, and that the distribution of well being and health-care outcomes appears totally different amongst LGBTQ+ individuals of coloration in comparison with their white counterparts.

If we’re to advance the well being of your entire LGBTQ+ neighborhood, we have to take significantly that totally different subsets of the inhabitants have totally different experiences and wish totally different interventions that middle their distinctive wants.

What are the a number of the penalties of not having equitable entry to care?

One instance of what’s in danger includes analysis I’m conducting now with assist from the Nationwide Most cancers Institute. I’m how provider- and policy-level elements similar to health-care supplier choice making and state Medicaid expansions affect sexual orientation and racial/ethnic disparities in human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccination and Pap testing amongst ladies within the U.S.

HPV vaccines and Pap exams assist stop cervical most cancers, so if lesbian and bisexual ladies and ladies of coloration aren’t given honest entry to that preventive care, then the chance of lacking most cancers at its earliest stage can be better, and cervical most cancers will finally be extra deadly in these underserved teams.

How did you get began on this profession path?

I first wished to be a pediatrician. Once I was a toddler residing in Haiti, I bear in mind seeing youngsters who have been in search of meals. I used to be 4 or 5 and questioning: “I’ve meals. Why don’t they?” My father and my grandfather have been actually concerned in problems with social justice and fairness. My grandfather used to work on problems with meals and agriculture, with a give attention to addressing starvation and meals insecurity. I consider him as somebody who actually did all he might to make a constructive change. He motivates me to proceed that legacy and way of life on the earth.

Academically, I began off being premed in faculty. Whereas finishing my necessities, I took a microbiology course the place the professor talked about public well being and talked about how this was an strategy that would save the lives of 1000’s and 1000’s of individuals directly, versus one affected person at a time. I bear in mind being struck by that and considering, “Oh, so there are methods that we are able to intervene on the environmental degree or on the societal degree and that may actually profit giant teams of individuals? Rely me in.”

Is entry to well being care what you’ll name a common proper?

Sure, well being care—and well being—are elementary rights of each human being. Each particular person has the appropriate to stay a lifetime of that means and well-being throughout the lifespan. That’s actually what I would like. To me which means centering probably the most marginalized amongst us, those that aren’t getting their fair proportion or a good shot. If you can begin from there, it advantages all people in the long run.

Within the largest sense of impression, it’s about connecting social justice to a wholesome society.

Sure, completely. You possibly can’t have a wholesome and simply society in case you have teams of individuals which can be unhealthy and struggling and dying disproportionately. Take into consideration how a lot better the world could possibly be if all people was wholesome and in a position to contribute to the world within the methods they discover significant. It’s robbing individuals of the chance to actually share their presents with the world if they’re sick or dying. I believe the world can be a greater place if we might all share the presents that all of us have.

These are formidable challenges, however clearly you see them as not unsurmountable. What offers you encouragement?

I discover hope in people who find themselves creating new methods and new establishments and new organizations. I’m inspired, for example, by the rise of recent establishments that, from the get-go, deliberately middle the experiences of marginalized teams and, from there, construct approaches that take individuals’s wants significantly and deal with them like full people.

Organizations like Boston GLASS in Jamaica Plain, for example, middle the wants of LGBTQ+ youth of coloration and tackle their multilevel social and well being wants—once more, intersectionality. Then you may have Nashira Baril and her crew who’re making a start middle in Boston to particularly tackle the start wants of marginalized individuals at its core. These sorts of shifts in well being care and neighborhood assets preserve me optimistic.

Wanting forward, what may prime your checklist of change you’d wish to see within the subsequent few years? 

Change is troublesome. I’m presently studying David Blight’s biography of Frederick Douglass. In the previous couple of years, I’ve learn a variety of historical past books on wonderful individuals who have been activists for social change.

I’ve realized two issues. One, there’s nothing new below the solar. It’s the identical stuff over and time and again. The preliminary injustices that have been perpetuated—slavery, genocide—they preserve persistently morphing into new techniques, establishments, and practices, as a result of the foundation of the issue has not been addressed. A few of the issues that we discuss now, Frederick Douglass was saying within the 1840s.

With that mentioned, change can also be all about day by day work being carried ahead by every new technology. In each technology there are individuals and communities resisting and combating for justice and fairness and exhibiting us that there are actually efficient methods that we are able to use.

What are these methods?

The methods that appear to actually stand out to me, which have probably the most potential to drive change, are neighborhood centered and neighborhood led. We’ve seen that this summer season with the protests in opposition to structural racism and for racial justice and fairness.

The social actions which can be led by the people who find themselves probably the most impacted by inequality and probably the most marginalized are those that actually get us shut to creating a distinction and to resisting injustice.

So I discover a variety of hope in realizing additionally that there are generations and generations of individuals earlier than me who’ve fought for fairness and justice for Black and different marginalized individuals and thousands and thousands of individuals right now who proceed this combat. I additionally discover hope in those that are doing day by day what they will, the place they will; they’re proof that small, sustained actions matter simply as a lot as massive actions.

What does it imply to be right here at Tufts and to carry the inaugural Gerald Gill professorship?

Coming to Tufts has allowed me to develop relationships with and be taught from college students who’re actually beginning to consider social and well being inequities. They’re at first of their careers; they’ve a contemporary view of the world, a future that’s extensive open to them, they usually’re actually enthusiastic about making a distinction.

They’re much less entrenched in routine methods of fascinated about issues, and they also provide contemporary views on persistent issues and daring concepts on the right way to tackle them, which has been actually thrilling for me.

They’re additionally fast to boost questions that the sphere has possibly not totally requested earlier than or addressed but, which retains my work fascinating. Tufts, additionally, is a really collaborative place, and collaboration throughout disciplines, sectors, and fields is central to public well being analysis and observe, in order that’s been an incredible alternative as properly.

Many individuals have informed me about Professor Gill—his spirit and his wonderful means to attach, how phenomenal he was as a trainer, thinker, mentor, buddy, and colleague. One among my college students this semester informed me her father had him as a trainer. Her father requested that she go alongside to me how glad he was that his daughter was taking my class.

Individuals clearly liked Professor Gill and bear in mind him as an inspiring trainer and particular person. A lot in order that they have been moved to determine a professorship in his identify. It’s an honor to be the primary to carry it, and I hope I’m in a position to fulfill even a fraction of his legacy and what he meant to Tufts.

Laura Ferguson might be reached at


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