Leicester academics explore possible BAME and COVID-19 link

In a new paper published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ), academics at the University of Leicester highlighted possible reasons why people from BAME backgrounds may have a higher incidence and severity of COVID-19.

Kamlesh Khunti, Professor of Primary Care Diabetes and Vascular Medicine, and Dr Manish Pareek, Associate Clinical Professor in Infectious Diseases, cited factors such as an increased risk of hospital admission for acute respiratory tract infections, vaccination policies in the country of birth and effects of immunity, and higher prevalence of cardiovascular risk factors such as insulin resistance and obesity than white populations.

In addition, Professor Khunti highlighted possible social and cultural reasons that could explain a higher incidence of COVID-19 amongst BAME communities that make social distancing challenging, such as living in poor overcrowded housing, extended cohabiting families and employment in low paid essential jobs. All these factors could potentially increase the risk of virus transmission.

Speaking today, Professor Kamlesh Khunti said: “The higher risk of COVID-19 in BAME populations is complex and may be associated with a range of factors, including socioeconomic, cultural, lifestyle, genetic predisposition, or pathophysiological differences. To get a clearer picture of ethnic disparities in incidence and outcome in the UK, it is imperative that national data is reported by ethnic group.

“We welcome the announcement that the NHS and Public Health England will lead a review of the evidence on why ethnic minority populations seem to be disproportionately affected by COVID-19.

“If an association is confirmed, further research will be needed to determine the causes. Meanwhile, populations of all ethnicities must continue handwashing and hygiene, social distancing and self-isolation when required. The public should also be encouraged to maintain healthy lifestyles to optimise cardiometabolic and mental health.”

Professor Kamlesh Khunti is Director of NIHR Applied Research Collaboration (ARC) East Midlands and the University of Leicester BME Centre.