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This past year, I had the privilege of working with the Advancing Sickle Cell Advocacy Project. An organization aimed at providing support and advocacy for patients with sickle cell disease - a chronic blood condition affecting over 100,000 people in the US. This group of individuals represents a population of people who are especially at risk during this pandemic. If someone with this disorder were to contract COVID-19, their immune system would likely not be able to fight it. Speaking to the founder of ASAP last week, Kemba Gosier, she told me her community of members is terrified.

They are terrified of potentially contracting this disease or spreading it to a family member who has sickle cell. They are terrified about having to seek medical attention for pain crises, a common complication that leads to excruciating joint pain usually warranting immediate medical attention. They fear going to the emergency room for their own health needs, because they do not want to contract the virus.

As a medical student, we are taught first and foremost to always remain patient centered. Prioritizing the patient’s story and experience is at the core of delivering quality care. In the middle of a pandemic, I feel incredible sympathy for those who are in such a challenging predicament. And I know now and in the months to come, it will be up to us as a society to be socially responsible and have a voice for those who are in the minority. We know that in the future, businesses will start to reopen and schools will be in session again. But COVID will be here even after that. Experts pushed for a quarantine because it would slow the spread and help with a manageable response within the hospitals. But COVID will not be gone overnight and we must have a plan to keep our communities safe.

The transitionary period will require us to all wear masks and continue to take precautions. For months to come, frequent handwashing and hand sanitizer will be standard. This means the at-risk population will have to continue to do the same but with even more care. There should be a government program specifically to tend to the need of the at risk groups in our community. They were the hardest hit during this pandemic and will also be the hardest to recover in our transition to normalcy.

Elderly and immunocompromised individuals should have access to PPE in this transition.  It is the only way to continue to protect our vulnerable populations or in other words our sisters, our brothers, our grandparents and our friends. The state of Florida should provide PPE to these individuals because they are of value to us. There is a possibility you may not have heard of this community before, but I implore you learn more about the Advancing Sickle Cell Project and all of the amazing work they do. Working with them this past year showed me how vital advocacy is. Having a voice and a platform to bring attention to our vulnerable communities is the only way to impact change and protect them.

While we are not quite there, the state should start to prepare for the transition. It must make the utmost effort to provide support to our communities who need it most. Access to PPE should be a right during this pandemic. With over half of our population having at least one chronic medical condition, it's vital to extend our compassion to those who may be overlooked. Organizations like ASAP and others representing our vulnerable populations should be able to receive funding specifically for their communities in need.

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