A new data map will help track systemic health disparities across the country

The COVID-19 pandemic has taken a disproportionately devastating toll on communities of color and exposed existing healthcare disparities.

But efforts to tackle these inequities can be hampered by inconsistencies in data reporting for vulnerable populations.

An industry coalition is trying to address those gaps and launched a first-of-its-kind data map to track systemic health inequities that impact communities of color.

The health equity tracker is a public-facing data platform that displays and contextualizes health disparities facing communities of color throughout the U.S., with an initial focus on COVID-19, the organizations said.

The effort is led by the Satcher Health Leadership Institute at the Morehouse School of Medicine with support from Google.org, Gilead Sciences, the Annie E. Casey Foundation and the CDC Foundation.

RELATED: Gilead, Morehouse track health inequities in communities of color using COVID-19 data

The data map is capable of tracking multiple conditions and determinants that have impacted COVID-19 outcomes and exacerbated health inequities.

Google.org, the technology company’s philanthropic arm, supported the build-out of the tool with $1.5 million in funding and provided a team of Google.org fellows to work directly with Satcher Health Leadership Institute for the last nine months. That team provided technical expertise in the areas of data analytics, engineering, product development, UX research and design support.

Gilead Sciences announced last summer it was donating $1 million to the Morehouse School of Medicine data map initiative. The partnership includes the creation of a Black Health Equity Alliance and the development of a COVID-19 Health Equity Task Force. 

"A game-changer, while still in its initial phases, the Health Equity Tracker will provide us the opportunity to track the health inequities plaguing this country,” said Daniel Dawes, executive director of the Satcher Health Leadership Institute at Morehouse School of Medicine and author of the “Political Determinants of Health.”

The tracker aims to empower policymakers, public health officials, advocates and community organizers with data in order to create actionable, evidence-based policy changes to attain health equity and ensure disproportionately impacted communities receive resources and support, the organizations said.

RELATED: CDC study examines racial and ethnic disparities in COVID-19 hospitalizations

At launch, the tracker records COVID-19 cases, deaths and hospitalizations nationwide across race and ethnicity, sex and age, and by state and county. The tracker also measures comorbidities associated with COVID-19, including COPD, diabetes and social and political determinants of health, including uninsured and poverty rates.

The aim is to expand the tracker to include additional conditions such as mental and behavioral health, as well as more social and political determinants of health that impact vulnerable communities, including persons with disabilities, LGBTQ+ individuals and people with lower socioeconomic status.

The tracker’s emphasis on unknown and missing data, as exhibited using map visualizations, points to the work ahead toward improved data collection and reporting standards. The tracker demonstrates the often perceived invisibility of health inequities among populations, which may largely be masked by the lack of data, the organizations said.

"The pandemic has taken a disproportionately devastating toll on communities of color, proving that equity is the most important step to recovery,” said Ivor Horn, M.D., director of product inclusion and health equity at Google, in a statement.

The tracker unlocks essential data and insights that will help inform public health experts, policymakers community leaders and other key decision-makers as they work to better understand and address the health disparities impacting BIPOC communities throughout the U.S., Horn said.