London, United Kingdom – One-third of critically ill COVID-19 patients in the UK come from Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) backgrounds, according to new data.
Of the 2,249 critical patients registered in the UK until April 3, 13.8 percent were recorded as “Asian”, 13.6 percent as “Black” and 6.6 percent as “Other”, a report by the National Center for Intensive Care Research and Audit (ICNARC) said on Saturday.
On Tuesday, Britain confirmed 52,290 coronavirus infections and 5,373 deaths, according to data collected by Johns Hopkins University in the United States.
As well as the cases of six frontline doctors from BME backgrounds who died after contracting COVID-19, who ICNARC The findings have sparked concern among the BME community, which represents about 13 percent of the population.
Wasim Hanif, a professor specializing in diabetes at the University of Birmingham Hospital and a trustee of the British South Asian Health Foundation, said anecdotal accounts from colleagues from the disproportionate number of South Asian patients in intensive care, seemed to be reflected in the data.
But he cautioned: “We need to ask for more ethnic data so that we know a little more about this patient; whether this is a younger patient, what is the underlying condition, and what other factors are. That is what needs to be looked at.”
Data has been released amid other concerns that the corona virus is exacerbating health inequalities in the UK.
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“The reality is that no one is immune from the health and economic impacts of COVID-19. But the structural inequalities mean that some groups will bear more of the burden of COVID-19 than others,” said Zubaida Haque, deputy director of Runnymede Trust’s equality race think tank.
A 2017 report by Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust on race and poverty found that the UK poverty level is twice as high for the BME community rather than for whites, citing rising unemployment among African, mixed race and Caribbean groups in particular, and low-paid employment as a motivating factor.
“BME groups in the UK are among the poorest socioeconomic groups. There is a very high level of child poverty and they are more likely to be employed in low paid and dangerous jobs. They are also far more likely to live in multigenerational households, which makes the elderly “BME is more at risk of becoming seriously ill due to COVID-19,” Haque said.
“BME women are very vulnerable because they are more likely to be in hazardous work than their white counterparts,” he added.
Omar Khan, director of Runnymede Trust, also urged caution when interpreting data so as not to eradicate the intersection of poverty and race in health disparities.
“There is biological racism in this kind of assumption that ethnic minorities are inherently more likely to suffer from diabetes,” he said.
“Even things like heart disease and diabetes have social and economic determinants – things like diet, exercise, discrimination and poverty.”
Salman Waqar, a doctor, said the findings invited more questions than answers, although they seemed to correlate with the experience of frontline intensive care unit staff.
“BAME patients are very under-represented in health research and there are many things that we don’t know about. Urgent action is needed to understand why they might experience the burden of this disease from COVID-19 and take appropriate action to prevent further death.”
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