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Racism Is A “Key Factor” In Disproportionate Impact Of Covid-19 On BAME Groups, Public Health Director Says

Professor Kevin Fenton, Public Health England’s London regional director, said the pandemic has shown that 'racism is a public health issue' (PA)

3 min read

A senior Public Health England figure has said racism has played a significant part in BAME in the UK being disproportionately impacted by the Covid-19 Pandemic.

A report by Public Health England last summer found that people from ethnic minorities in the UK were more likely to die of Covid-19. 

Professor Kevin Fenton, who is the group’s London regional director, said “now is the time for us to recognise the connection between structural racism and racialised disparities in health”.

He was speaking after the publication of a new report into understanding the impact of COVID-19 on BAME groups, which said that racism is “a public health issue” and “there are structural factors such as employment and housing that will require long term change”.

The study, by the Association of Directors of Public Health London, said the most recent data on the impact of the second wave of coronavirus on the capital shows Black people were most likely to be diagnosed with Covid-19, and death rates were highest among people from Black and Asian ethnic groups. 

Accounting for the effect of sex, age, deprivation and region, the policy paper said “people of Bangladeshi ethnicity had around twice the risk of death than people of White British ethnicity”.

The report calls for a number of sweeping changes to tackle the issue. It recommends those in public health look to build trust and cohesion around the definition of BAME, look to co-produce with those communities affected, improve ethnicity data collection and research, embed public health work in social and economic policy, and diversify the workforce.

Professor Fenton, who was previously PHE’s National Director for Health and Wellbeing, tweeted in response to the study: “There is no doubt that the pandemic has had a disproportionate impact on BAME groups across the UK. 

“The Faculty of Public Health, the Health Foundation and now the Directors of Public Health in London have all implicated racism as a key factor influencing the mounting data.

“Addressing the inherent social and structural components shows how racism permeates our everyday lives. 

“Geography, deprivation, housing, employment, occupational exposure, mental and physical health are all factors skewed to negatively impact the health of BAME communities.

“The impact of these longstanding social and economic inequalities and the increased clinical risk of Covid-19 complications and death, paired with structural racism, discrimination, stigma, fear and mistrust make for an incredibly complex problem to solve.”

He added: “We heard these issues loud and clear from over 4,000 people in Public Health England’s ‘Beyond the data’ report.

“Developing a deeper understanding of possible links between racism and health and addressing it is central to eliminating racialised health disparities.

“As public health practitioners, many of us will share the belief that collective efforts can help evoke social change and more generally reduce racialised health disparities and inequality. So what will you do?”

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