A network of European health organizations and parliamentarians is calling for the European Commission to explicitly recognize racism as a key factor that can negatively affect people’s health, and to prioritize the issue for research funding.
“It’s about time,” says Sarah Hamed, a sociologist at Uppsala University in Sweden who researches racism in health care. “Racism should be seen as a public-health issue.”
Some 30 organizations and 3 members of the European Parliament co-signed a statement to the European Commission, presented in Luxembourg on 19 April, calling for it to name racism as a health determinant in legislative and policy documents.
“The evidence is out there,” says Raymond Gemen, senior policy manager for health equity at the Brussels-based European Public Health Alliance, an association of non-profit organizations focused on public health. Gemen presented the statement at an annual meeting of the EU Health Policy Platform, an online communications portal for health-interested groups. The statement calls for increased support by the commission for data collection and research aimed at investigating and addressing the harms to health that racism can cause.
For example, in 2022, the medical journal The Lancet published a series1 of articles linking racism and discrimination to widely documented health disparities in countries worldwide. The series highlighted the various ways in which discrimination can harm health, for instance by limiting access to healthy living environments and to high-quality healthcare, and by contributing to stress responses in the body.
But most studies on the health impacts of racism are conducted in the United States2. Unlike the United States and the United Kingdom, many European Union nations don’t routinely collect health or other data disaggregated by race and ethnicity, making such research challenging to conduct.
Getting money to do these studies is also difficult, says Hamed. “Funding for projects related to racism — in general and in health care — is not prioritized,” she says. “I know a lot of researchers have had difficulty getting funding.” As a result, she says that she and other researchers in her field often think twice about even mentioning the word racism in their research proposals, because they worry it might hurt their chances of being funded.
Hamed thinks that research in her field would benefit from targeted funding calls for studies explicitly focused on racism. Research that she and her colleagues conducted3 on racism in Swedish health care was funded as part of a specific call from the Swedish Research Council for projects on racism and discrimination. “We were lucky,” she says.
Anti-racism should be considered a mainstream part of EU health policy, says Gemen. The EU has dedicated €5.3 billion (US$5.8 billion) to a seven-year public-health programme called EU4Health, but he points out that neither racism nor discrimination were mentioned in the EU regulation that established the programme in 2021. He and his colleagues at the European Public Health Alliance are advocating for increased and more explicit prioritization of these issues as part of a public consultation for the programme’s 2024 work plan.
The European Commission did not respond to Nature’s request for comment.