UK researchers will receive millions of pounds from the government for studies to understand why black, Asian, and minority ethnic (BAME) lives are at greater risk of COVID-19, the infection caused by the novel coronavirus.
The projects will analyze data on their socio-economic status, health, daily activities, and genetic risk factors. The researchers will then take rapid action based on the findings.
Director of the Centre for BME Health at Leicester University Prof. Kamlesh Khunti told BBC News that the expected results will be translated into guidelines that would help save BAME lives within months.
He said, “We will definitely get answers to the things that are putting people at much higher risk. As soon as we get results that might make a difference, it is important that we get them out straight away.”
“The results will also be shared with the leaders of black and South Asian communities, professional bodies and health regulators who will take rapid action,” Prof. Khunti added.
“If we find that living in crowded, multi-generational housing, not getting enough physical activity, are high on the list of factors associated with certain communities dying from COVID, we can look at the evidence and transform them into the most culturally appropriate messages.”
There has been mounting evidence suggesting that people from ethnic minority backgrounds are more likely to die from COVID-19 than the white population. However, it is still unclear why they are more vulnerable to the virus.
Many experts believe that people from ethnic minorities are prone to COVID-19 because they tend to work in occupations with greater levels of contact with people, live in deprived conditions, and have underlying medical conditions, such as hypertension and diabetes, which are known to increase the risk of serious illness
Dr. Chris Whitty, the Chief Medical Officer for England, said, “With evidence showing that people from BAME backgrounds are more severely affected by Covid-19, it is critical that we understand what factors are driving this risk to address them effectively.”
“The diverse range of projects funded will help examine this association in detail so that new treatments and approaches to care can be developed to target BAME groups,” he added.
Dr. Manish Pareek of the University of Leicester, who is leading the study of health and social care workers, said the studies aim to quantify the risk of COVID-19 among different groups.
He said, “What is the risk of a doctor from an Asian group compared with that of a nurse of black ethnicity? If there is a clear signal we are seeing that a particular group is at high risk we will put these forward and recommend action be taken. This may include enhanced health assessments or that those at really high risk should not be working in COVID wards.”
“Even taking into account factors such as deprivation, household structure, age and gender, ethnicity is still is an important predictor of getting infected and having adverse outcomes,” Dr. PAreek added.
Chief Executive of UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) Prof. Dame Ottoline Leyser said the studies would help save lives.
She said, “Urgent action must be taken to determine and address the factors underlying this disparity.” “There is unlikely to be a simple answer and we must consider all possibilities, including the role of racial and social inequalities so that we can save as many lives as possible during this pandemic and any future outbreaks,” she added.