Latest report exploring impact of coronavirus on BAME community makes omissions, says University of East London Lecturer

Dr Winston Morgan, Reader in Toxicology and Clinical Biochemistry at the University of East London,

Dr Winston Morgan, Reader in Toxicology and Clinical Biochemistry at the University of East London, says race and genetics are key omissions from the PHE report on coronavirus. Picture: University of East London - Credit: Archant

The Public Health England (PHE) report exploring the impact of coronavirus on the black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) community makes important omissions, according to Dr Winston Morgan of the University of East London.

Dr Morgan — a reader in toxicology and clinical biochemistry at the university — commended the report for properly addressing “the structural problems linked to racism” which have caused Covid-19 to disproportionately impact BAME communities.

However, the lecturer criticised the complete lack of consideration given to the issue of genetics, and specifically to answering the question as to whether certain traits increase virus susceptibility.

Failing to adequately address this subject “leaves the door open for continued speculation around race and genetics”, said Dr Morgan.

This report was an opportunity to “knock the speculation on its head”, and allow for focus to be appropriately shifted to dealing with the damaging structural problems within society.

A spokesperson for PHE said: “The review was not able to look at genetic factors and more research in this area is needed.

“To complement the review, a research call by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) and UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) has jointly called for research proposals to investigate emerging evidence of an association between ethnicity and COVID-19 incidence and adverse health outcomes.”

Dr Morgan also queried how the report framed its discussion of the relationship between the BAME community and the NHS: “The report missed a number of opportunities, such as not to consider that historical racism will impact on both the speed and level of treatment BAME groups are likely to receive when they interact with the NHS.

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“Instead, it focused on the fact that as a result of historical racism BAME groups are less likely to seek care when needed.”

Both arguments are underpinned by historical racism, and should have been given equal weight in the report: “By omitting the former it has the feel of blaming the victims for not complaining.”

PHE conceded that the report did not consider every issue: “There are many impacts of systemic racism and PHE’s qualitative report identified the issues that were raised repeatedly by stakeholders.

“This does not mean that other factors are not relevant and confirms the need for further more detailed research studies on these issues.”

Dr Morgan concluded that despite reservations over the lack of “wider recommendation about tackling structural racism in wider society”, all seven recommendations should be implemented.