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COVID-19: The Urgent Need to Address Health Equity

Updated: Nov 16, 2020

The evidence is clear – the COVID pandemic has hit Native Americans, communities of color, and other high-risk and vulnerable populations the hardest, putting front and center the nation’s systematic health and societal disparities. The immediate impact is already evident: disproportionate job, wage, and savings losses; health and health care challenges; food insecurity; housing instability; caregiving gaps; and education disruption. Additional resources can help now, but what about the long-term health and financial effects? How can we ensure that these individuals weather the storm and that needed societal changes are put firmly in place? On November 10, Dr. Richard Besser, President and CEO of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and Dr. Mary Bassett, Director of the FXB Center for Health and Human Rights at Harvard University, joined Aspen Ideas: Health for a hard look at the communities being left behind by America’s COVID-19 response and the prospects for recovery that promise a brighter, more just future through the lens of health equity. Watch and share!

About the speakers:

Dr. Richard Besser

President and CEO, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation

Richard Besser is president and CEO of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, since 2017. He was previously chief health and medical editor for ABC News. Prior to that, Besser directed the CDC’s Coordinating Office for Terrorism Preparedness and Emergency Response and served as acting director from January to June 2009 during the H1N1 influenza pandemic. A member of the National Academy of Medicine, he received the Surgeon General’s Medallion for his leadership during the H1N1 response and in 2011 accepted the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health Dean’s Medal for contributions to public health. He continues to practice as a volunteer pediatrician at Henry J. Austin Health Center in Trenton, NJ.


Dr. Mary Bassett

Director, FXB Center for Health and Human Rights, Harvard University

Mary Bassett is director of the François-Xavier Bagnoud (FXB) Center for Health and Human Rights at Harvard University and FXB Professor of the Practice of Health and Human Rights at Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health. She has 30 years of experience in public health and advancing health equity, most recently as New York City’s health commissioner from 2014 to 2018. Bassett also directed health programs at the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation and was associate director of health equity at Rockefeller Foundation’s Southern Africa Office, among others. Her honors include the Frank A. Calderone Prize in Public Health and a Kenneth A. Forde Lifetime Achievement Award from Columbia University.

The views and opinions of the speakers are their own and do not necessarily reflect those of The Aspen Institute.

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