Experts outline how to reduce COVID-19 health inequalities for ethnic minority groups

Dr Daniel Pan

An international collaborative, led by the University of Leicester and University of Manchester, has published a new paper that outlines ways to reduce COVID-19 health inequity for ethnic minority groups.

The paper, which was commissioned by the World Health Organisation (WHO), was published this month (January) in EClinicalMedicine

It builds on research already completed by both institutions during the pandemic which shows that ethnic minority groups were disproportionately affected by COVID-19. 

The paper brings together all the available evidence, along with international experts in the field, to summarise why people from ethnic minority groups were more likely to be infected and die during the pandemic. 

Researchers highlighted that ethnic minority groups were more likely to be exposed to those who were infectious with COVID-19 because of the high proportion in key worker roles. This therefore made it more likely they would become infected themselves. They also showed that certain ethnic minority groups were more likely to die once infected due to barriers in receiving adequate healthcare, such as delayed diagnosis and treatment due to job insecurity and financial issues and in some cases, language barriers.

In addition, research showed they were more likely to suffer from social and economic consequences – for example the inability to isolate once infected and in some cases the lack of adequate healthcare to meet their needs.

The authors state that ethnic minority groups were disadvantaged from the start as a result of longstanding health inequities due to systemic racism and racial discrimination. Furthermore, the reasons for ethnic inequities in COVID-19 infection, severe disease, and death are interconnected. 

The paper aims to provide a blueprint for policy-makers and researchers to address these inequities so that they can be better prepared for future pandemics. 

It states that a ‘one size fits all’ approach to intervention does not work and that cultural, social and language barriers must be overcome along with other socio-economic issues. 

Dr Patsy Irizar, lead author from the University of Manchester, said: "There is clear evidence of inequities in COVID-19 health outcomes for ethnic minority groups. This research is of timely importance, given the UK’s ongoing COVID-19 public inquiry, and there are clear opportunities to address racism and racial discrimination, to reduce inequity."

Dr Daniel Pan, co-lead author from the University of Leicester, a specialist registrar in Infectious Diseases and General Internal Medicine and a National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR) Doctoral Research Fellow, said: “This framework is the first of its kind to specifically address inequities during a pandemic. The recommendations aim to ensure ethnic inequalities in treatment do not occur in future. 

“The COVID-19 pandemic won’t be the last and steps need to be taken now to reduce the inevitable consequences of the next pandemic on ethnic minority groups. We know that innovative approaches are required but if we plan for these, they can be overcome.” 

Professor Manish Pareek, senior author from the University of Leicester and Professor of Clinical Infectious Diseases, said: “The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted and amplified health inequalities for ethnic minority groups. 

“It is important that we learn lessons from the pandemic and this work, in collaboration with international experts and the WHO, provides guidance on how to reduce the disproportionate impact on ethnic minority groups for future pandemics.”