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Restricted religious practices relating to death causing upset among all ethnicity groups

The “devastation of death” is being made worse among all ethnicity groups because some religious practices relating to religious services and burials are restricted because of COVID-19.

A new study, led by the Director of ARC East Midlands Professor Kamlesh Khunti, has shown that ethnic minorities may have been affected more by this. 

The findings suggest that more than double the proportion of black and ethnic minority people compared to white people, say the religious practices following death – for example an ability to attend funeral and, or, cremation – normally adopted by their culture was not carried out because of the pandemic.

One participant said: “This really affected us because in our culture we always stay as long as possible to watch.”

Another person involved in the research said they had been forced to think about their funeral and what would happen to their body, due to working on a COVID-19 ward. 

They said: “I would like my body to be buried at my rural home in Zimbabwe and I would like a traditional burial attended by all family members who can manage to and I want them to be able to do the body viewing custom before my body is interred.”

“I have life insurance in place but I am really worried that in the event that I succumb to this pandemic, this will not happen and none of my family will be present as I live on my own in the UK.”

Another study participant described how they were unable to attend a relative’s funeral because of restrictions. Services of more than 200 people are usually customary within their culture, followed by a large wake. 

The person said they missed attending the service to say goodbye and found it “difficult” offering the family prayers and condolences over social media. 

The Centre for Black and Minority Ethnic Health, based in Leicester, and ARC East Midlands, conducted the research.

Professor Khunti, Director of NIHR ARC East Midlands and the Centre for BME Health, said: “Prevention measures designed to limit community transmission of COVID-19 are important but there has been restricted access to vital social support such as group prayers and receiving human touch. Many religious practices have become a vital stage in the  acceptance of death and the grieving process among these minority communities.”

Dr Ash Routen lead researcher commented “Our work has highlighted that not allowing these important practices, that are hugely significant among different religions, is making the devastation of death even worse among certain communities."

Dr Natalie Darko, a co-author, said: “It’s important to understand if practices have been differentially affected by ethnic groups, as there may be negative impacts on the grieving process and subsequent mental health outcomes in the longer term. Community and religious groups may need to provide alternative forms of support to these families to help in their bereavement process.”

The Centre for Black and Minority Ethnic Health is working to reduce health inequality in the region by sharing resources and promoting research. The Centre is supported by the University of Leicester and ARC East Midlands. NIHR ARC East Midlands is a partnership of regional health services, universities and industry which turns research into cost-saving and high-quality care through cutting-edge innovation.

The Centre of Black and Minority Ethnic Health will be changing its name. It comes after the UK government, health organisations and recent research deemed the acronyms; BAME, which stands for black, Asian, and minority ethnic, and BME (black and minority ethnic) inappropriate for use in future research and other literature or media communication. 

The Centre is fully committed to reducing ethnic health inequalities and everything it says and does must reflect its ambition. It is with this in mind that it took the decision to evaluate options to rebrand and rename.

Published on: 26 Mar 2021