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Why Dr. Roberta Timothy Is A Doris Anderson Award Recipient

The public health expert has long championed the need for race-based data in health care.

A woman in a yellow leopard print dress stands against a dark brown wall.

(Photograph: Carmen Cheung)|

As the world locked down at the start of the pandemic, a lot of politicians dropped a lot of platitudes about how COVID-19 was “the great equalizer.” That, of course, was ludicrous: Racialized and low-income people were getting infected at rates hugely dis- proportionate to their populations. But Canada didn’t actually have a policy of collecting race-based data in health care—which made it exceptionally difficult to understand the pandemic’s true impact and target interventions where they were needed most.

Dr. Roberta Timothy, an assistant professor at University of Toronto’s Dalla Lana School of Public Health, knows how important this data is. She’s been calling for it throughout her 30- year career. “I thought, okay, I am in a position where I just need to do this work for our community,” says Timothy, who holds a PhD in adult education, community development and women and gender studies. “We need to collect our own data, and we need to create interventions that can support our community and get Black health and wellness to be a permanent consideration in the Canadian health system.”

She launched Black Health Matters—first nationally, in December 2020, then globally, in March of this year—with surveys to determine the impact of COVID-19 on Black communities as well as to identify systemic barriers to effective and dignified care. “When you go to a health practitioner and you’re treated in a way where you don’t feel human—who’s going to go back?” asks Timothy. “So this project is a larger project in many ways, talking about anti-Black racism in health care and how we can challenge and change outcomes for Black folks.”

Another way to confront racism in health care is to overhaul the curriculum itself. In July, Timothy became Dalla Lana’s inaugural Black Health Lead and immediately set about strengthening mentorship opportunities for Black students and creating a master of public health in Black health—the first of its kind in North America. The quick turnaround is by design. “This is the window we have right now, where people are talking about anti-Black racism in health,” she says. “So I am hoping to get all this done so it can be a catalyst for further change.”

Meet all of our 2021 Doris Anderson Award winners here.

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