Under the leadership of Dr. Ala Sanford, a group of medical professionals in Philadelphia have pooled their resources together in order to offer affordable COVID-19 tests in the Black neighborhoods most impacted by the pandemic.
Sanford's effort to supply affordable testing to marginalized populations within the city began in April. Like many, Dr. Sanford's regular work schedule was impacted by the pandemic. On many days, she could be found at home, relaxing and getting some much needed rest. While watching television one day, she learned that it was difficult for many Americans to access COVID-19 tests. Eager to learn more, she began calling different hospitals to get more information that would explain why it was difficult to access these much needed tests.
Along her journey for information, she learned that many of the barriers to accessing testing would disproportionately affect Black Americans. Many testing sites required people to drive up in cars, which is difficult for Black Americans who rely on public transportation. She also learned that it could get complicated determining who would communicate test results back to the patient.
"All these reasons in my mind were barriers and excuses," she said.
"And in essence I decided in that moment we were going to test the city of Philadelphia."
From that moment on, Dr. Sanford developed a plan to address the testing issue in her city. Her mother rented a minivan and she began recruiting volunteer doctors, medical students and other health professionals to assist her efforts. Then, she began using donations and portions of her personal savings to purchase COVID-19 testing kits from LabCorp. After securing tests, volunteers and a minivan, she opened up mobile testing sites in public parking lots across the city.
"I said, for every person that does not have insurance, you're gonna bill me, and I'm gonna figure out how to pay for it later," Dr. Sanford said.
"But I can't have someone die for a test that costs $200."
Within a month, Dr. Sanford and company were testing more than 350 people per day in an area that was disproportionately affected by the virus. Black Philadelphians have contracted the virus at twice the rate of their white counterparts. Furthermore, Black residents make up 44% of the city's population, but 55% of those hospitalized due to COVID-19. The number of positive COVID-19 cases within Black Philadelphia neighborhoods is largely because of the number of Black people who perform high risk jobs in sanitation, transportation and retail. In addition, Black Philadelphians have reported being turned away from testing sites due to underlying conditions.
"When an elderly funeral home director in West Philly tries to get tested and you turn him away because he doesn't have a prescription, that has nothing to do with his hypertension, that has everything to do with your implicit bias," Dr. Sanford added.
After spending months providing tests to those in need of them, Dr. Sanford's goal to offer citywide testing for free one day per week. She is currently working the city's health commissioner to make the goal a reality.
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