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British Indian doctors probe ethnicity factor in Covid-19 vulnerability


Luthfa Hood whose father, Jamshad Ali, recently passed away shows his picture at her home, as the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) continues, in Dorking, Britain April 9, 2020. (REUTERS/Peter Nicholls)
Luthfa Hood whose father, Jamshad Ali, recently passed away shows his picture at her home, as the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) continues, in Dorking, Britain April 9, 2020. (REUTERS/Peter Nicholls)

Indian-origin doctors in the UK have initiated an in-depth research into the role of ethnicity in greater susceptibility of BAME communities to develop more critical symptoms of Covid-19.

A report by the UK’s Intensive Care National Audit and Research Centre (ICNARC) this week had revealed that the country’s ethnic minority population is more likely to require intensive care admissions, nearly triple the 13 per cent proportion in the UK population as a whole.

“We have a team of researchers on this because it is important to analyse the factors behind these differentiating factors so that communities can put additional preventive measures in place,” said Dr Ramesh Mehta, the president of the British Association of Physicians of Indian Origin (BAPIO), the main representative group for Indian doctors in the UK.

“The reasons behind this trend will not be any one thing but a complex set of factors, be it Vitamin D deficiency, the lack of social distancing measures within a large Indian family household set up or a genetic predisposition. We will know only once we have the relevant data to analyse,” he said.

BAPIO has written to the Chief Medical Officer of England, Professor Chris Whitty, and Medical Director of NHS England Stephen Powis, this week requesting all the official data available on Covid-19 hospital admissions for its research.

“The most recent ICNARC data of UK intensive care unit attendance is some of the first signals of the concern that Covid-19 has a more severe (lethal) phenotype in BAME [Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic] groups, with more than 25 per cent being Black or Asian, and more than a third being non-Caucasian,” notes the letter.

It adds: “We need a better understanding of the issues of BAME mortality in the context of the general population, particularly if it helps us manage sick and vulnerable groups, and so that we can be accurate in our messaging.

“We are therefore asking that the data for COVID cases, and most certainly those who have died as a result of the illness, incorporates ethnicity and profession, as well as the usual demographic data.”

The concern around the limited data available so far is also linked to hundreds of Indian-origin retired doctors answering the National Health Service (NHS) call to arms for them to return to the hospital frontlines to assist during the mounting workload as a result of the pandemic.

“There is very limited evidence and there are so many variables hence a proper study needed. Meanwhile, we propose that irrespective of ethnicity, senior and retired clinicians should be redeployed preferably away from frontline duties,” said Professor Parag Singhal, one of the doctors on the NHS frontlines.

“BAME doctors should discuss their underlying health issues with their employers to assess the risk,” he said.

Indian-origin doctors, who make up a large chunk of the NHS workforce, are already among the victims of the deadly virus in the UK, including cardiac surgeon Wales-based Jitendra Kumar Rathod, 58, originally from Gujarat, and Birmingham-based Hamza Pacheeri, 80, from Kerala.

“Just as there is uncertainty about future predictions for the population, we don’t fully understand the Covid-19 related impact on the workforce, and their safety is paramount,” notes BAPIO in its letter, a copy of which has also been sent to NHS England and Public Health England.