Government advisor Dr Raghib Ali has dismissed claims that structural racism is behind the disproportionately high Covid-19 mortality rates in Black, Asian, and Minority Ethnic (BAME) communities.
Speaking at the briefing of a new quarterly report investigating Covid-19 disparities newly appointed expert Dr Ali said that: “Structural racism is not a reasonable explanation.”
Adding that ethnicity should not drive resource allocation, but instead the Government should focus individually and on attributive factors such as occupation, housing, and health problems.
"If structural racism was an important problem, not saying it doesn’t exist, but if it was an important problem in healthcare outcomes, you’d expect it to be reflected not just in Covid but with other outcomes as well."
Minister for Equalities, Kemi Badenoch MP, announced the findings of the new report and £4.3m worth of funding for six new research projects analysing the links between Covid-19 and ethnicity, and updated guidelines for employers.
He said that: “Today’s report marks an important first step in our journey to understand and tackle the disproportionate impact of Covid. I remain committed to doing everything possible to beat back this virus.”
Essentially this new report is a response to the significant and growing body of research and anecdotal evidence that has suggested that there is a strong relationship between ethnicity and Covid-19 cases and related mortality.
Socioeconomic, structural racism, or genetical?
During the first wave of the pandemic more than 90% of doctors who died from the virus were from the BAME community. And earlier this year ICNARC data established that, compared to their demographical percentage, BAME people were more than doubly overrepresented in hospital admissions – consequently from developing more acute symptoms from the virus.
Additionally research published by Public Health England in August also causally connected Covid-19 with ethnicity – reporting that there was a higher risk of death for all ethnicity minority groups between 10-50%. However, the relationship between ethnicity and health seems to be complex, which PHE discussed by attributing socioeconomic, and lifestyle and genetical health factors as potential contributory reasons for those figures.
Although the relevance of socioeconomic factors was challenged last week when the ONS updated their statistics on the relationship between Covid-19 deaths and ethnicity. And again, concluded that the data collected strongly associated that all ethnic minority groups (other than Chinese) with a higher mortality rate, than the white population.
But when attributive factors, such as geography, socioeconomic, and pre-existing health conditions were adjusted for - all minority ethnic groups (other than Chinese, and Bangladeshi and mixed ethnicity group females) retained a disproportion risk. And especially for those from a black African background who are at a higher risk by 2.5 for males and by 2.1 for females.
These adjusted results also contrasted the risk factors contained in the Covid disparities report, which emphasised socioeconomic factors over health or structural problems - highlighting that ethnic minorities tend to live in harder hit urban areas, live in larger households, and are potentially more likely have occupations that carry a high risk of infection.
Referencing the report Dr Chaand Nagpaul, BMA council chair, said that: “It notes the social and economic factors linked to the worrying trend we have seen over the course of the pandemic – including overcrowded housing, deprivation and employment in low-paid frontline jobs – but it’s very thin on detail on how it plans to address these deeply entrenched inequalities… A ‘progress report’ will not save lives. But action will.”