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Meeting the COVID-19 testing challenge: The Black Doctors COVID-19 Consortium

By May 20, 2021June 24th, 2022Community Health
Dr. Ala Stanford, Founder and Director of It Takes Philly and The Black Doctors COVID-19 Consortium, gathers information from an individual to provide COVID-19 testing.

Dr. Ala Stanford, Founder and Director of It Takes Philly and The Black Doctors COVID-19 Consortium, gathers information from an individual to provide COVID-19 testing.

Last March and April, I began receiving calls from friends who were having trouble getting a coronavirus (COVID-19) test. These were educated African Americans with health insurance. Wanting to help, I contacted my colleagues in hospitals, as well as city and state officials, to better understand the problem. What I learned was deeply concerning.

Red tape and bureaucracy were often the problem that stood in the way of more African Americans getting tested. In stark contrast, in Philadelphia, those living in affluent white areas were six times more likely to be tested for COVID-19. After learning that African Americans were being diagnosed and dying at greater rates than other populations, I knew I had to do something.

When I created the Black Doctors COVID-19 Consortium (BDCC), our mission was to educate and advocate for barrier-free COVID-19 testing. With no cure or vaccine yet available, testing was desperately needed to stop the disease from spreading and more people from dying.

Serving the community

Having created another nonprofit (It Takes Philly, Inc.) nearly a decade earlier, I already had the infrastructure in place to test residents in Southeastern PA and Camden, NJ. On April 16, 2020, we hit the road, driving door-to-door to test individuals at the curb of their homes.

Our next step was to assess where the need for testing was greatest and to offer testing in those neighborhoods. We chose churches and mosques as ideal locations, as they were known and trusted by the community. We also tested on street corners where people gathered to take public transportation, at labor unions, and in parks and playgrounds.

When there was a COVID-19 outbreak among Temple University students in August, BDCC was an integral part of the emergency response to quickly test and begin contact tracing. By September, we had tested nearly 11,000 residents.

Breaking down barriers of trust

The rate of deaths from COVID-19 in African Americans is 97.9 per 100,000 and whites 46.6 per 100,000 deaths.  As a high-risk group, African Americans must have access to a safe and effective vaccine. However, many people mistrust the health care system, making it even more challenging to identify those willing to receive the vaccine.

This is one of the reasons why the BDCC continues to be relevant and necessary. We will continue to advocate for equal access and delivery of resources. We will also share unfiltered, factual information to help reduce the health disparities that persist in our nation. We are proud that as of the publication of this blog, we have vaccinated more than 42,000 people throughout Philadelphia.

Changing health outcomes for the better

We are grateful for all the support and attention we’ve received since last April, especially to organizations like the Independence Blue Cross Foundation, one of our first supporters. We also would not be where we are today without the trust of the citizens of Philadelphia.

BDCC’s work will go on, long after everyone has been vaccinated. We will strive to change the poor health outcomes that exist in the African American and Latinx communities. That is what I aspire to do every single day.

Editor’s Note: In addition to providing COVID-19 testing, vaccines, and antibody tests, BDCC will offer no-cost flu vaccines for anyone who needs one (as young as 6 months old).

Dr. Ala Stanford

Ala Stanford, MD, FACS, FAAP, a practicing physician for over 20 years, is board certified by the American Board of Surgery in both pediatric and adult general surgery and a health care advocate. She is the Founder of The Black Doctors COVID19 Consortium, BDCC. The consortium was formed in response to the disproportionate number of African-Americans being diagnosed and dying from coronavirus in Philadelphia, PA and the lack of swift intervention to mitigate disease spread. The mission of the consortium is to educate, provide advocacy and barrier free coronavirus testing in an effort to decrease the morbidity and mortality associated with the disease. Her research in basic science, clinical research and public health have been published in peer reviewed medical journals. Dr. Stanford also serves as a medical correspondent.

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