A pediatrician’s reflections on the election of 2020
“Change will not come if we wait for some other person, or if we wait for some other time. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. We are the change that we seek.” ― Barack Obama
This year has been marked by significant upheaval. Climate change has taken center stage with large and destructive fires and stronger and more destructive hurricanes and other weather phenomena.
This has also been a year marked by loss. We have lost famous people including KobeBryant, Chadwick Boseman, John Lewis, and Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Many families have also suffered personal losses of their own loved ones.
However, two pivotal events have defined 2020: the death of George Floyd and the coronavirus pandemic. The murder of George Floyd by the police sparked a conflagration of national and global protests by people of all backgrounds, seeking a reckoning on racial injustice and an end to police violence.
However, nothing has changed life across the globe more than the coronavirus pandemic. COVID 19 has wrought havoc in the lives of millions of people around the world by causing illness and death. But more than that, it has impacted almost every single facet of our lives from how we work, play, go to school and interact with others.
Through all this chaos, what has become clear is the importance of leadership in helping communities and our society as a whole navigate these turbulent waters. The failure of leadership in our own country has contributed to a staggering loss of more than 225,000 American lives to COVID-19. The politicization of the response to this pandemic in our country means that this number continues to climb.
We are now well into election season. Early voting in person or by mail is ongoing and will culminate on November 3, 2020. As a pediatrician, I am guided by what will make the lives of my patients better.
In Minnesota, there are over one million children under the age of 18. They are relying on the adults in their lives to vote their interests. c
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recently released their latest “Blueprint for Kids.” This document is meant to guide lawmakers about issues pertinent to the welfare of children. It outlines a comprehensive child health policy agenda.
According to the AAP, “the Blueprint reflects on the State of Children in 2020, and recommends policies to promote healthy children, support secure families, build strong communities, and ensure our role as a leading nation for youth.”
There are multiple issues facing our children, and who we vote for will have an impact on the health of children and their families. Currently, 18 Republican-led states are challenging the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) in the Supreme Court.
According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, “If all or most of the law ultimately is struck down, it will have complex and far-reaching consequences for the nation’s health care system, affecting nearly everyone in some way.
A host of ACA provisions could be eliminated, including protections for people with pre-existing conditions, subsidies to make individual health insurance more affordable, expanded eligibility for Medicaid, coverage of young adults up to age 26 under their parents’ insurance policies, and coverage of preventive care with no patient cost-sharing.”
Protecting the ACA as well as Medicaid and, the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) is key to ensuring affordable and comprehensive health coverage for children.
According to the AAP, providing for secure families means that policymakers need to enact policies aimed at reducing poverty and ensuring food security. This means increasing funding for federal and state food programs like SNAP and WIC as well as increasing opportunities for families to get out of poverty by raising the minimum wage and strengthening tax credits.
Programs that expand federal rental assistance and increase loan and rental availability are important for our leaders to champion.
To build strong communities it is important for policymakers to ensure all children and families live in safe communities where public housing standards are enforced to combat housing inequities and the environmental racism that has led so many communities of color to live in areas where they are exposed to toxic waste.
At all levels of government, the AAP envisions “efforts to reduce the violence children experience and witness in their communities, including through measures to ensure that firearms do not get into the wrong hands such as universal background checks and supporting the implementation of evidence-based violence prevention programs.”
It is critical that we vote in leaders who support police reform efforts that aim to reimagine public safety, reduce the role of police in solving societal problems, hold abusive police officers accountable, and eliminate police violence against people of color. Too many of our children have suffered or died at the hands of those meant to protect them, and this has to stop.
We must also vote in leaders who will work to address the challenges of immigration and improving global health. The separation of children from their parents at the border and the caging of these children is a stain on the conscience of our nation. As many as 545 of these children may never be reunited with their parents.
This must never again happen in this land of the free. We must vote in leaders who are champions of global health and work collaboratively with other nations through organizations like the World Health Organization to combat diseases that affect us all, including the current coronavirus pandemic.
Elections are also local. Who gets voted onto your city council and school board has implications for your children. They will determine local zoning and housing laws, policing, and taxes among other things. The school board may impact what and how your children are taught and by whom.
Our vote is precious, and unfortunately, there are ongoing efforts to disenfranchise people of color. It is vital that we vote to prevent the further erosion of the rights we hold dear. Vote. Our lives and those of our children depend on it!
Dr. Andrew Kiragu is the medical director of the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit (PICU) at Hennepin Healthcare. He is also an associate of the Children’s Respiratory and Critical Care Specialist’s group and provides pediatric critical care at Children’s of Minnesota.
Dr. Kiragu is a passionate advocate for children and is a past president of the Minnesota Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics and a past president of the Minnesota Association of Black Physicians. He is an associate professor of pediatrics at the University of Minnesota.