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ARC EM Director shines spotlight on ethnicity health issues among COVID-19

Minority ethnic groups are more likely to become seriously unwell or even die should they become infected with COVID-19, the Director of ARC East Midlands has said.

Professor Kamlesh Khunti, Professor of Primary Care Diabetes and Vascular Medicine at the University of Leicester, has been looking at coronavirus infection rates among ethnicities since the start of the pandemic.

Professor Kamlesh said: “The COVID-19 pandemic has had a disproportionate impact on minority ethnic communities in the UK and beyond."

A study led by the OpenSAFELY group using health data from more than 17 million people has just been published in the Lancet.

Dr Rohini Mathur, who led the study, said: “Minority ethnic groups in the UK are disproportionately affected by factors that also increase the risk for poor COVID-19 outcomes, such as living in deprived areas, working in front-line jobs, and having poorer access to healthcare. 

“Our study indicates that even after accounting for many of these factors, the risk for testing positive, hospitalisation, ICU admission and death was still higher in minority ethnic groups compared with white people in England. To improve COVID-19 outcomes, we urgently need to tackle the wider disadvantage and structural racism faced by these communities, as well as improving access to care and reducing transmission.”

Of 17,288,532 adults included in the study, 63% (10,877,978) were white, 5.9% (1,025,319) South Asian, 2% (340,912) Black, 1.8% (320,788) other, and 1% (170,484) mixed. Ethnicity was unknown for 26.3% (4,553,051) people.

Dr Mathur added: “Higher risks for testing positive and subsequent poor outcomes amongst minority ethnic groups suggest that people may delay seeking testing or accessing care for SARS-CoV-2. This may be due to lack of access to testing sites or conflicting health messaging. 

“It may also suggest that some may be fearful of losing income or employment if required to quarantine after testing positive as minority ethnic groups are more likely to work in insecure jobs with poorer workplace protections. People who need to be tested as well as those who test positive must be supported better if we are to reduce disparities in COVID-19 outcomes.”

Hi Compared with wave 1, the relative risk for testing positive, hospitalisation, ICU admission, and death were smaller in pandemic wave 2 for all minority ethnic communities compared to white people, with the exception of South Asian groups. South Asian groups remained at higher risk for testing positive, with relative risks for hospitalisation, ICU admission, and death greater in magnitude in wave 2 compared to wave 1.

Dr Mathur said: “Despite the improvements seen in most minority ethnic groups in the second wave compared to the first, it’s concerning to see that the disparity widened among South Asian groups. This highlights an urgent need to find effective prevention measures that fit with the needs of the UK’s ethnically diverse population.”

Professor Khunti, a co-author on the study said “This study accounted for a large number of explanatory variables such as household size, social factors and health conditions across all ethnic groups and at different stages of COVID-19, from testing to mortality. Understanding drivers of SARS-CoV-2 infection and COVID-19 in minority ethnic communities will be crucial to public policy efforts to overcome inequalities.”

Published on: 3 May 2021