Six new projects to improve our understanding of the links between COVID-19 and ethnicity have been funded by UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) and the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR). These projects will seek to explain and mitigate the disproportionate death rate from COVID-19 among people from Black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) backgrounds, including BAME health and social care workers.
Multimillion investment in six new research projects to investigate COVID-19 and ethnicity
Emerging evidence shows that, after taking account of age and other sociodemographic factors, BAME people are nearly twice as likely to die of COVID-19 than white people. There is an urgent need for more detailed data on why COVID-19 disproportionately impacts people from BAME backgrounds, building the essential evidence base needed to make recommendations to decision makers and protect the health of these groups.
The projects, which total £4.3 million worth of funding, will explore; the impact of the virus specifically on migrant and refugee groups; work with key voices within BAME communities to create targeted, digital health messages; the introduction of a new framework to ensure the representation of people from BAME backgrounds in clinical trials testing new treatments and vaccines for COVID-19; and the creation of one the UK’s largest COVID-19 cohorts.
One of the projects will establish a unique partnership between national healthcare organisations to specifically address the prevalence of COVID-19 amongst BAME healthcare workers - who have been significantly overrepresented among the deaths from the virus. The mixed-method project will bring together existing datasets to calculate the risk of COVID-19 to all BAME healthcare workers and follow a group of these healthcare workers over the next 12 months to assess their physical and mental health - as well as engage directly with a smaller group of workers to gather qualitative data.
Dr Manish Pareek, Principal Investigator of the UK-REACH study, University of Leicester and Honorary Consultant at University Hospitals of Leicester NHS Trust said:” Globally, we have evidence that people from BAME backgrounds have a higher chance of going to intensive care and dying from COVID-19 – this may also be the case for healthcare staff. Our study is the first to be conducted on a large scale, investigating why BAME healthcare workers could be at greater risk. A recent PHE report highlighted how 63 per cent of healthcare workers that 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.”
UK Research and Innovation Chief Executive, Professor Dame Ottoline Leyser, said: “It is now abundantly clear that COVID-19 disproportionately affects people from Black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds. Urgent action must be taken to determine and address the factors underlying this disparity. There is unlikely to be a simple answer and we must consider all possibilities, reflected in the range of projects we have funded, so that we can save as many lives as possible during this pandemic and any future outbreaks.”
Chief Medical Officer for England and Head of the NIHR Professor Chris Whitty said "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.
“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."
Health Minister Lord Bethell said: “I am deeply concerned by the disproportionate impact of this horrible virus on some minority communities. We need to find out what’s causing this, so we can stop these deaths. These research awards will give Britain’s scientists resources they need to answer the urgent questions behind these disparities so we can address the root causes and save lives.”
Science Minister Amanda Solloway said: “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. 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."
Kemi Badenoch, Equalities Minister and Exchequer Secretary to the Treasury said: “This is testament to how seriously the government is taking this issue. It is critical that citizens, whatever their background, are appropriately supported in the fight against Covid 19. This includes researching the impact of the virus on them. It is vital that all the action we take is evidence-based and fully informed. This multimillion pound investment will enable our scientists and health workers to investigate further and get the information needed to protect the lives of our citizens.”
This group of projects forms part of a rolling call for research proposals on COVID-19, jointly funded by UKRI and NIHR in response to the pandemic, and includes research on treatments, vaccines and the spread of the virus, as well as specific calls on COVID-19 and ethnicity, and the wider impact of the virus on mental health.