News | Published July 30 2020

Government to fund studies into increased Covid-19 risk factor in ethnic minorities

The government will invest millions into a number of projects to determine why individuals of ethnic minority backgrounds are at a heightened risk of becoming seriously ill with Covid-19.

Six of the studies will analyse data mapping social circumstances, health, daily activities and look into genetic risk factors. Another of the studies will follow 30,000 health and social care workers from ethnic minority backgrounds over the course of a year.

Professor Kamlesh Khunti, director of the University of Leicester’s Centre for BME Health, told the BBC that he expected the findings of the results to be swiftly translated into culturally appropriate guidance to help save the lives of ethnic minorities in a matter of months.

Khunti said: "We will definitely get answers to the things that are putting people at much higher risk. As soon as we get results that might make a difference, it is important that we get them out straight away.

"If we find that living in crowded, multi-generational housing, not getting enough physical activity, are high on the list of factors associated with certain communities dying from Covid, we can look at the evidence and transform them into the most culturally appropriate messages."

He added that the findings of the research will be shared among black and southern Asian community leaders, professional bodies, and health regulators.

It remains unknown as to why ethnic minority groups are more vulnerable to Covid-19, but some hypotheses have been put forward, such as the fact that many ethnic minorities tend to work in higher contact jobs such as frontline health and care roles.

Other possible explanations include depravity within ethnic minority communities, and greater proportions of such individuals living with underlying health problems which increase the risk of developing complications from Covid-19.

The UK’s chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty commented: "With evidence showing that people from BAME backgrounds are more severely affected by Covid-19, it is critical that we understand what factors are driving this risk to address them effectively.

"The diverse range of projects funded will help examine this association in detail so that new treatments and approaches to care can be developed to target BAME groups."

The National Institute of Health Research and UK Research and Innovation have provided part of the overall funding toward the studies.

The chief executive of the latter, Professor Dame Ottoline Leyser, said: "Urgent action must be taken to determine and address the factors underlying this disparity.

"There is unlikely to be a simple answer and we must consider all possibilities, reflected in the range of projects we have funded, so that we can save as many lives as possible during this pandemic and any future outbreaks."

One of the studies will explore the age, gender and deprivation status of over two million health and social care staff, as well as following 30,000 doctors, nurses, porters and cleaners across all ethnic backgrounds over 12 months and taking into account work routines, location and access to personal protective equipment [PPE].

The Universities of Oxford and Southampton will be conducting a study into the health conditions of ethnic minority patients who died of Covid-19 following hospital treatment. Elsewhere, there will be another study into information supplied by the UK Biobank project which has kept tabs on the genetics, mental health status and physical activity of 500,000 people since 2006.

The hope is that the studies can more accurately measure the risks of Covid-19 for different ethnic groups.

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Authored by

Alexander Bridge-Wilkinson
Junior Editor
July 30 2020

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