German doctors are reportedly concerned about a large proportion of people from ethnic minority backgrounds among coronavirus patients in intensive care, citing a lack of proper communication with the Muslim community, in particular about the dangers of the disease.
Lothar Wieler, head of the Robert Koch Institute, Germany’s disease control agency, confirmed that the matter had been discussed with a senior medical consultant last month, although he stressed that the meeting was not official.
Wieler has been quoted by German media as saying the topic was “taboo” for the German government, which feared the debate would be viewed as racist. He reportedly called it a “big problem” that has “massive implications” for the government.
Wieler was quoted as saying at the meeting, which took place on February 14, that he had tried to “approach certain people to discuss it”. He said it was important to talk to religious community leaders in the hope that they can convey these concerns to their congregation.
He reportedly said at the meeting: “This is a parallel society in the heart of our country. If you want to get a message across, it only works with social work in mosques. And we can’t go in there, and that’s bad. “
He was quoted as saying Muslims make up 4.8% of Germany’s population, “but among those lying in intensive care wards, this group makes up more than 50%”.
Muslims make up about 6% of the population. The majority trace their origins to Turkey, while the rest come from Arab countries, followed by the Balkans, Afghanistan and Iran.
There has been little public debate on this German about the extent to which people from ethnic minority groups may be more affected by the virus.
The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) said last fall that in nearly all member countries, people from ethnic minority groups were “systematically over-represented” in the Covid-19 case and resulted in death.
It said reasons include poverty, cramped living conditions, more frequent use of public transport, and jobs that make it impossible to maintain physical distancing, such as in hotels and the catering or meat processing industry.
Germany collects statistics on the number of intensive beds occupied by coronavirus patients, including details of their gender and age, but there are no official statistics on the ethnic background of patients. This has not been a topic during regular government meetings with the media, and politicians have been accused of ignoring or belittling the issue.
A prominent pulmonary specialist, Thomas Voshaar, was quoted as telling a meeting in Germany that most of the patients he has seen with the coronavirus in intensive care “make it very clear that there is clearly a group that politicians cannot reach with their coronavirus. warning, who have a migrant background ”.
He said intensive care doctors’ polls had been conducted over the phone which reflected this. According to polls and anecdotes of doctors participating in the telephone conference, 50-90% of the most seriously ill patients they treat are from ethnic minorities. Voshaar said his team had decided to label patients internally as “people with communication barriers”.
Wieler told the Bild newspaper, which first reported on the conference, that the meeting was not “a public discussion between experts, but an exchange of personal and informal information”. He said participants “have not come to any concrete conclusions” but are only “considering ideas”.
News magazine Focus reported on Wednesday that it had approached intensive care doctors across Germany in recent days and had found that their experience broadly supported the concerns raised at the meeting.
A doctor who requested anonymity told the magazine, “There have been cases where patients with ethnic minority backgrounds were highly represented.” He said this was especially evident during the second wave of the virus, when “they constitute by far the largest proportion of patients needing therapy”.
The German government is expected to announce on Wednesday the next stage in its plans on how it can escape the tight lockdown that has been in place since November.
The government is under enormous pressure from business, but Angela Merkel has previously insisted the national infection rate should fall below 35 per 100,000 people over a seven-day period – currently at 64 – and she is widely expected to announce that restrictions will remain in place until the end. March.
Germany’s infection rates have continued to rise in recent days, with the more contagious B117 mutation first detected in the UK now accounting for about half of all new infections, compared with 6% three weeks ago.
A sluggish vaccine program – as of Wednesday more than 6.6 million people had received a single shot, and less than 2% of the population had been fully vaccinated – was seen as a hindrance to any relaxation plan.
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