The pre-existing underlying health condition exposed by COVID-19 by Rev Alton P Bell

Following news reports that, compared to the general population, people from BAME communities are disproportionately contracting and dying from COVID-19, church leader and Chair of the Movement for Justice and Reconciliation (MJR), Alton Bell, is calling for the UK government to take major steps to redress the inequalities in health outcomes for UK’s minority ethnic population.

Rev Bell stated: “A variety of reasons have been put forward about this disproportionality.  These include some scientists stating it is due to a lack of vitamin D3, which helps strengthen the immune system. Another reason put forward is that BAME communities are more susceptible to the coronavirus, because they have underlying health conditions.”  

He continued: “Whilst these reasons may have legitimacy, they ignore the inequality experienced by BAME communities and how that can impact health. It is also worth noting that BAME people tend to work in jobs where they have to interface with the public, which means that many have not had the option of working from home during the lockdown.

“Although underlying health conditions may have contributed to the disproportionate number of deaths, too few people have recognised that social inequality and the legacy of enslavement are also major contributory factors.”

MJR, a charity founded in 2015, seeks to address the legacy of the Transatlantic Slave Trade and chattel slavery on Caribbean people, and encourage community reconciliation in new and innovative ways.  Since its formation, MJR has conducted acclaimed research led by Dr Clifford Hill and his team, studying the legacy of enslavement on the descendants of the enslaved and the descendants of the beneficiaries; held exhibitions that explain the history of Caribbean enslavement and demonstrated the impact of the legacy which continues today.

In light of the disproportionate number of BAME people contracting and dying from the coronavirus, MJR is calling on the UK government to take immediate action to tackle this public health crisis among BAME people, specifically among African-Caribbean people, and to agree plans to make a concerted effort to redress the social inequality. 

Research shows that the enslavement of people in the Caribbean has contributed greatly to the large numbers of their descendants experiencing high blood pressure and type 2 diabetes. COVID-19 has exposed a pre-existing underlying health condition in our society, and there is a lot of work that needs to be done to rectify this. Measures should include more support for health and wellbeing education targeting the African and Caribbean community, as well as taking more concerted action to treat socio-economic inequalities that contribute to poor health.

MJR, which has the necessary expertise, stands willing to engage in discussion with our National Government and local authorities about how to take matters forward. 

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In May 2020, the government initiated a review to analyse how different factors – including ethnicity, gender and obesity – can impact on people’s health outcomes from COVID-19.  Professor Kevin Fenton, Public Health England National Director for Health and Wellbeing, will lead the review, supported by a wide group including Trevor Phillips OBE.

Professor Kevin Fenton said:

“Having an accurate understanding of how diseases affect different groups of people is a really important issue and a fundamental part of PHE’s role. Detailed and careful work is being done so that we can better understand this and explore the possible reasons for any disparities.

“Increasing evidence and concern around the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on Black and minority ethnic groups highlights an important focus of this review. PHE is rapidly building robust data and undertaking detailed analysis to develop our understanding of the impact of this novel coronavirus on different groups, which can inform actions to mitigate the risks it presents.

“PHE is engaging a wide range of external experts and independent advisors, representing diverse constituencies, including devolved administrations, faith groups, voluntary and community sector organisations, local government, public health, academic, royal colleges and others. We are committed to hearing voices from a variety of perspectives on the impact of COVID-19 on people of different ethnicities.”

Findings from the review are due to be published by the end of May 2020.

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