Doctors protesting for black lives in Portland, Oregon on June 5th 2020. Photo from Krystina Wentz-Graff and KOIN news.
Integrative healthcare is not just about using natural supplements and acupuncture instead of drugs or surgeries. It is about looking at the whole person--connected in relationships, communities, and larger social & political structures, and developing a holistic treatment plan that addresses the roots of illness. In the United States, institutional racism and economic inequality are pervasive causes of mental & physical illness and early death, as documented in the book Unequal Treatment, published in 2003 by the Institute of Medicine. Two current pandemics--coronavirus and police violence--highlight these disparities. For example, African Americans are two- to three times more likely to die from COVID-19, and in New Mexico, where Native Americans make up 8.8% of the population, they represent 59.7% of deaths from COVID-19 (https://www.apmresearchlab.org/covid/deaths-by-race). Pre-existing health conditions, lack of access to affordable and quality health care services, crowded housing, low-wage jobs with inadequate protections or sick leave--these are all social inequities that lead to health disparities.
An integrative approach to treating these pandemics involves changing social structures and belief systems to dismantle white supremacy and ensure equality for all people. Healthcare professionals must adopt an actively anti-racist platform that also recognizes how race, gender, sexuality, class, religion, and national origin intersect, leading to unequal treatment. We must speak up about police brutality and the prison-industrial complex. We must speak up about environmental policies that put the biggest polluters in low income and communities of color, from urban centers to Appalachia to Indian Country. We must speak up about the climate crisis that presents an imminent threat to all life on earth, yet will impact the most disenfranchised first and hardest.
Integrative medicine practitioners must also find ways to improve access to the healing modalities that help alleviate suffering, so that “alternatives” do not remain in the realm of the wealthy alone. We must also humbly recognize that many communities and cultures maintain healing practices which they may or may not want to share, and that using other cultures’ knowledge without permission or out of context may perpetuate colonialism through cultural appropriation.
For information on how to be an anti-racist ally in the movement to end white supremacy and police violence, I recommend learning from and donating to Showing up for Racial Justice and the Anti Police-Terror Project.To join a network of practitioners who care about improving access to integrative healthcare for all, join Integrative Medicine for the Underserved, which is hosting its annual conference online this year. To support an organization providing integrative healthcare to undocumented immigrants, consider making a donation to Street Level Health Project in the Fruitvale District of Oakland, CA, one of the communities hardest hit by the coronavirus pandemic and also the site of the brutal murder of Oscar Grant by BART police in 2009.
Written by Ingrid Bauer, MD, MS: With experience that bridges Western and Eastern medicine, Ingrid brings rigorous scientific knowledge to Five Flavors Herbs. A graduate of the UC Berkeley/UCSF Joint Medical Program and the American School of Herbalism in Santa Cruz, CA, Ingrid integrates plant-based medicine into mainstream healthcare. She is passionate about bringing holistic care to people from all walks of life. Her master’s research focused on Latino health beliefs and traditional medicine at a bilingual clinic in Oakland, CA, and she teaches workshops about herbal medicine at conferences and schools.