An official UK government review has confirmed what was already feared - that historic racism and social inequalities are among the factors behind a higher risk faced by ethnic minorities of contracting and dying from Covid-19.
'Beyond the data: Understanding the impact of Covid-19 on BAME groups', released by Public Health England (PHE) this week, has been at centre of a row over its non-publication alongside an earlier PHE report, which had confirmed the higher risks faced by the country's minorities but failed to explain the factors behind it or put forward any recommendations to counter the risks.
Global Indian Professor Raj Bhopal spoke out recently to reveal that he had peer-reviewed an inquiry paper that laid out some recommendations on tackling the higher Covid-19 risks faced by Britain's ethnic minorities.
“Without recommendations there can be no actions,” said Prof.Bhopal, Emeritus Professor of Public Health at the Usher Institute, College of Medicine and Veterinary Medicine, at the University of Edinburgh.
He revealed that the paper he had reviewed had evidence from thousands of individuals and organisations and was intended as a complementary part of PHE's 'Disparities in the risk and outcomes of Covid-19' report, tabled in the House of Commons earlier by UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock.
"It is a scandal that the government appears to have blocked a review that included?recommendations that could help'save Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic lives during this crisis,” said?Marsha De Cordova MP, Labour's Shadow Women and Equalities Secretary.
The complementary data review in question, which did not take genetic factors into account, is finally out and concludes that local and national policy initiatives will need to be sensitive to minority communities to ensure existing health and economic inequalities are not widened due to the measures taken during the pandemic.
“Stakeholders pointed to racism and discrimination experienced by communities and more specifically by BAME [black, Asian and minority ethnic] key workers as a root cause affecting health, and exposure risk and disease progression risk,” the report notes.
“Racial discrimination affects people's life chances and the stress associated with being discriminated against based on race/ethnicity affects mental and physical health,” it said.
Besides racism and discrimination, the report found that the unequal impact of the pandemic may be explained by social and economic inequalities, stigma, differing risks at work and inequalities in the prevalence of conditions such as obesity, diabetes, hypertension and asthma, which can increase the severity of Covid-19.
The results of the PHE data review suggest that people of BAME groups may be more exposed to Covid-19, and therefore are more likely to be diagnosed. This, it said, could be the result of factors associated with ethnicity such as occupation, population density, use of public transport, household composition and housing conditions, which the currently available data did not allow further analysis of.
“Historic racism and poorer experiences of healthcare or at work may mean that BAME individuals are less likely to seek care when needed or as NHS [National Health Service] staff less likely to speak up when they have concerns about PPE [personal protective equipment] or testing,” it said.
The British Medical Association (BMA), among the groups lobbying for the review to be released, said the recommendations must now be implemented urgently.
“It's important we now move forward and deliver those changes because it's the fair and right thing to do for our population,"'said Dr Chaand Nagpaul, BMA Council Chair.
The BMA says that more than 90 per cent of UK doctors who died during the pandemic were from BAME backgrounds, including many of Indian-origin, and medics from these communities were also three times as likely to say they had felt pressured to work without sufficient PPE.
The PHE's initial review had revealed that people of Bangladeshi ethnicity had twice the risk of death than people of white British ethnicity. The death rate from Covid-19 was found to be 1.5 times higher among people of Indian heritage and?4.3 times higher in those of black African origin.