Coronavirus: UK projects worth £4.3m hope to answer why ethnic minorities hit hardest

Government to fund six new virus studies as people from black, Asian and other minority backgrounds are twice as likely as white people to die with Covid-19

Scientists in the UK have been given £4.3m to work on six projects to examine the impact of coronavirus on ethnic minorities. Reuters
Scientists in the UK have been given £4.3m to work on six projects to examine the impact of coronavirus on ethnic minorities. Reuters

Six projects costing £4.3 million are being launched in the UK to examine why non-white people are at a greater risk from the coronavirus.

The latest evidence shows that people from Black, Asian and minority ethnic (Bame) backgrounds are twice as likely as white people to die with Covid-19 in Britain.

On Wednesday the National Institute for Health Research and UK Research and Innovation unveiled the projects, which will see British scientists analysing data on social circumstances, health and genetic risk factors to understand the links between Covid-19 and ethnicity.

The institute says the research is needed urgently to protect people from Bame backgrounds, including front-line health workers.

"With evidence showing that people from Black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds are more severely affected by Covid-19, it is critical that we understand what factors are driving this risk to address them effectively,” said the chief medical officer for England and head of the national institute, Chris Whitty.

“The diverse range of projects funded by the NIHR and UKRI will help examine this association in detail, so that new treatments and approaches to care can be developed to target the ethnicities most at risk. This research will have embedded patient and public involvement with Bame groups at all stages of the research."

The projects, which will cost £4.3m (Dh20.5m), will explore the impact of the virus on migrant and refugee groups and work with key voices within Bame communities to create targeted digital health messages.

Others will ensure people from Bame backgrounds are adequately represented in clinical trials testing new treatments and vaccines, and will see the creation of one the UK’s largest Covid-19 cohorts.

Dr Manish Pareek, from the University of Leicester and honorary consultant at University Hospitals of Leicester NHS Trust, is leading the UK-Reach study, which will examine the impact on Bame healthcare workers.

"Globally, we have evidence that people from Bame backgrounds have a higher chance of going into intensive care and dying from Covid-19; this may also be the case for healthcare staff,” he said.

“Our study is the first to be conducted on a large scale, investigating why Bame healthcare workers could be at a greater risk.

“A recent Public Health England report highlighted how 63 per cent of healthcare workers who died from Covid-19 were from a Bame background. We want this research to improve the lives of healthcare staff – to this end, we have a stakeholder group of major national organisations to research and publicise our findings.”

The new projects form part of a rolling funding call by the two research groups for rapid research to support the UK’s coronavirus response.

“I am deeply concerned by the disproportionate impact of this horrible virus on some minority communities,” Health Minister Lord Bethell said.

“We need to find out what’s causing this so we can stop these deaths. These research awards will give Britain’s scientists the resources they need to answer the urgent questions behind these disparities so we can address the root causes and save lives.”

One study will follow 30,000 doctors, nurses, porters and cleaners of all ethnic backgrounds over the course of a year and look at workplace routines, such as the provision of protective equipment.

Scientists from Oxford and Southampton University will look at the health conditions of Bame patients who were treated in hospital and died with the coronavirus.

“Covid-19 has had an enormous impact on all of our lives but sadly we have seen that people from Black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds are disproportionately affected by this terrible disease,” Science Minister Amanda Solloway said.

"There is an urgent need to better understand the complex reasons behind this. These six new projects will enable researchers to work directly with ethnic minority groups to improve our evidence base and, crucially, save lives."

The health institute is also working to encourage people from Bame backgrounds to take part in Covid-19 studies and ensure that researchers include these communities in their work.

Published: July 29, 2020 06:51 PM

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