'It must be urgently addressed': New research into BAME Covid impact

Dr Vanessa Apea

Dr Vanessa Apea, who is jointly leading the study, was born in east London - Credit: BHT

A new study into why Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) people are so badly affected by Covid has been launched, amid a drive to encourage the communities to get vaccinated.

Barts Charity, which works alongside Barts Health NHS Trust (BHT) hospitals in east London, is also looking to understand why BAME communities are less likely to get themselves vaccinated as part of its ‘Amplifying Lives’ study. 

People from racial minorities are more likely to become very unwell or die from Covid than white people. Tower Hamlets and Newham have been among the most affected parts of the country, with BAME populations of 55 and 71 per cent. 

Compared to the general population, those of Black African heritage are 3.24 times more likely to die from the virus, while Bangladeshi populations are 2.41 times more likely to die. 

Nurul Islam, 38, from Forest Gate contracted the virus in February and said: “I’ve never felt anything like it. One night I woke up suffocating. So many things came into my mind, I was scared and panicking.” 

Nurul Islam

Nurul Islam contracted the virus in February - Credit: BHT

The study, could help the NHS and policymakers develop strategies, will involve interviews with east Londoners from BAME communities, covering their own personal experiences of coronavirus. 

It will also address the lower vaccine uptake by people from racial minorities, helping them to better understand hesitancy within these groups. 

‘It must be urgently addressed’ 

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The joint project between Queen Mary University and BHT is being led by Professor Chloe Orkin and Dr Vanessa Apea. 

Dr Apea said: “Poorer health outcomes in racially minoritised groups are not new, but have been revealed more starkly than ever by Covid and must be urgently addressed.  

“Authentic community engagement and co-creation of solutions are key to achieving health equity.” 

The latest study follows a study, recently published in the journal BMJ Open, based on nearly 1,800 patients admitted to five hospitals within Barts Health NHS Trust between January 1 and May 13 last year.  

The study found that patients from minority ethnic backgrounds were younger and less frail, compared with white patients.  

It also showed that black patients were 1.8 times, and Asian patients 1.54 times, more likely to be admitted to an intensive care unit (ICU) and need mechanical ventilation. 

Researchers are planning further studies into 3,000 BAME Covid patients treated by BHT, cross-referenced with local authority data from Tower Hamlets and Newham to explore factors like socioeconomic status, household density and geographic health factors such as pollution. 

Imam Zawar Ahmed, from the Baitul Ahad Mosque in Tudor Road, Upton Park, said he supported the new study.

He said: “Our community would always help the government or NHS, we say anything to get rid of this virus, we are supporting.” 

He added that Ahmadi Muslims in Newham had donated around £2,000 of food to local foodbanks throughout the pandemic.

‘Inform and persuade, not criticise or censure’ 

Promoting understanding of the vaccine is crucial to managing the disproportionate impact Covid is having on BAME communities. 

This is where a national community-based campaign, headed up by Tower Hamlets resident Kawsar Zaman, comes in.   

A desire to "inform and persuade” people to take the vaccine drove the barrister to create the ‘Take the COVID-19 Vaccine’ campaign. 

More specifically, he was influenced by the fact that that “vaccine hesitancy affects minority communities disproportionately”.   

The campaigner references his own mother’s hesitancy, as a 60-year-old British Bangladeshi who is at high-risk.

Frustrated in his efforts to find answers, Kawsar decided to create a campaign to make vaccine information more easily accessible.   

Though the aim - “inform and persuade, not criticise or censure” - is directed at everyone, Kawsar believes this campaign is particularly important for BAME communities. 

He said: “Research indicates that groups that frequently encounter discrimination in their everyday lives have a larger degree of hesitancy towards vaccines.” 

In his view, “the only way out” of the pandemic is through vaccination. As such, it’s crucial to offer a platform to reassure groups who may be wary.   

For further information, visit takethecovid19vaccine.com