Projects to probe Covid-19 ethnicity link get UK funds
New projects worth around £4.3 million have received UK government funding to help explain and mitigate the disproportionately adverse Covid-19 impact and higher death rate among the country’s ethnic minorities.
The UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) and National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) backed projects include over £2 million for academics at the University of Leicester to investigate why people from minority ethnic backgrounds, including Global Indians, have a higher risk of developing severe Covid-19. The study titled UK-REACH – UK Research study into Ethnicity And Covid-19 outcomes in Healthcare workers – will work with more than 30,000 clinical and non-clinical members of staff to assess their risk from the deadly coronavirus, based on the analysis of 2 million healthcare records.
Dr Manish Pareek, the chief investigator of the UK-REACH study, said: “Globally, we have evidence that people from BAME [black, Asian and minority ethnic] backgrounds have a higher chance of going to intensive care and dying from Covid-19 – this may also be the case for healthcare staff.
“A recent PHE [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 Global Indian Associate Clinical Professor in Infectious Diseases at the University of Leicester and Honorary Consultant in Infectious Diseases at University Hospitals of Leicester NHS Trust described the research as the first UK study to be conducted on a large scale to investigate why ethnic minority healthcare workers could be at greater risk of Covid-19.
The UK’s Office for National Statistics (ONS) data shows that, after taking account of age and other sociodemographic factors, minority ethnic people are nearly twice as likely to die of Covid-19 than white people. It reflects that people from minority ethnic groups, particularly South Asian and black and African Caribbean communities, are up to four times more likely to die from Covid-19, however the reason for this increased risk is not known.
“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 black, Asian and minority ethnic groups at all stages of the research,” said Professor Chris Whitty, the Chief Medical Officer of England and Head of the NIHR.
The new set of six projects will explore the impact of the virus specifically on migrant and refugee groups; work with key voices within ethnic minority communities to create targeted, digital health messages; introduce a new framework to ensure the representation of people from ethnic minority backgrounds in clinical trials testing new treatments and vaccines for Covid-19; and create one of the largest Covid-19 cohorts.
“The University of Leicester has been internationally leading on work relating to the impact of Covid-19 on ethnic minority groups, including the development of a national Risk Reduction Framework for NHS staff and a comprehensive report recommending a series of policy actions to reduce health inequalities related to Covid-19,” said Professor Kamlesh Khunti, the academic who leads the Centre for BME [black and minority ethnic] Health in Leicester.
“These studies will help us to develop and to refine these recommendations with the overall aim to mitigate further disparities in Covid-19 outcomes for ethnic minority healthcare staff,” said Khunti, who had raised concerns at the start of the coronavirus lockdown about findings from the UK’s Intensive Care National Audit and Research Centre (ICNARC), which highlighted that up to a third of people who were critically ill with coronavirus were from ethnic minority backgrounds.
Among the new projects is a UK-wide study awarded more than £120,000 to examine why people from ethnic minority backgrounds have a higher risk of developing severe Covid-19, by drawing on datasets from the UK Biobank and using statistical modelling.
The study will assess whether greater exposures to risk factors leads to an increased risk of Covid-19 specifically in ethnic minority groups.
by Aditi Khanna