COVID scientists issue urgent call for help from UK’s black communities

Scientists involved in a ground-breaking COVID-19 genetic research study have issued an urgent call to Londoners who caught the virus to donate blood at special ‘pop up’ centres that are staring to open across the capital.

From Saturday (April 24th), the city’s first temporary centres in Croydon, Hounslow, Lambeth, Barking and Barnet, will open their doors to volunteers. If participants don’t wish to travel, they also have the option of booking a home visit with a nurse. The news marks the first stage of a campaign to encourage more people to join the study, with additional centres due to open across the capital over the next four weeks.

The unique GenOMICC COVID-19 Study analyses the genes of people who have had the virus to discover why some experienced no symptoms while others became extremely ill. The study is  already contributing to the fight again COVID, with preliminary results helping identify possible new treatments.

However, for the study to continue to make progress, the scientists urgently need to recruit 2,500 more people from all backgrounds. Along with seeking the help of members of London’s Asian and Black communities, they’re also keen for more men to volunteer.

The capital’s ethnic communities have enthusiastically backed the scheme, with leaders agreeing to help distribute thousands of information leaflets and posters – translated into Urdu, Bengali, Gujarati, and Punjabi – to its members.

“Tragically, the virus’ effect has been more widely felt among ethnic and minority communities, so it’s important we help those who are making such an important contribution in the fight against COVID”, said Aman Ali from Muslim Engagement and Development (MEND).

“We’re encouraging everyone to take a minute to see if they’re suitable to volunteer for the study. The results will not only help us here in London, they’ll be shared internationally and offer more protection to some of the most vulnerable groups of people around the world.”

‘As CORE, we represent a coalition of 27 ethnic minority led organisations across the UK,” said Karun Maudgil, Development Officer at CORE (Coalition of Race Equality Organisations). “We welcome the pop up donation centres, in that they will provide greater clarity as to why members of the ethnic minority communities we represent, who were disproportionately impacted in terms of COVID-19 infection, hospitalisation and death rates, experienced varying degrees of symptoms – ranging from asymptomatic to fatal.”

The genetic research project has been enthusiastically embraced in Scotland, Bradford and Slough when similar pop up centres were opened – and with life in the capital beginning to return to a sense of normality, organisers are hoping for a similar response.

“The past year has been exceptionally difficult for everyone – here in London more than 700,000 people caught COVID-19 and, tragically, 19,000 lost their lives,” said Dr Sundar Raj Ashok, Consultant Intensivist and Anaesthetist at Croydon University Hospital. “The remarkable diligence of the community and healthcare workers prevented even more tragedy – but it’s research that holds the key to long term solutions.”

“Over the past year, more than a hundred of my patients in Croydon University Hospital’s intensive care took part in this research, knowing it may help save lives and improve recovery. Now the wider public can join too and help beat the virus.”

“This study has one key objective – to help us understand why COVID has impacted different groups in different ways,” said Dr Harpreet Sood, Associate Chief Clinical Information Officer, NHS England. “A disproportionate number of people who ended up in hospital have Asian and Black heritage – that’s why we need people from these communities to join the study as soon as possible to help us discover new ways of beating the virus.”

“We’re appealing for more volunteers from all walks of life – and in particular for people from London’s Asian and Black communities – to come forward and register,” explains Dr Kenneth Baillie, the study’s Chief Investigator. “We need to find people who tested positive for COVID but experienced either mild or no symptoms and didn’t require hospital treatment. To maximise the study’s potential, it’s important these volunteers are similar in age, gender and ethnicity of those people who were severely affected and hospitalised.”

“The quicker this research can be completed, the faster we can solve the COVID puzzle and protect  vulnerable people,” said Professor Sir Mark Caulfied, Chief Scientist at Genomics England. “Genetic research into COVID-19 is now playing an increasingly important role in our fight against the virus, enabling us to identify new forms of the virus and develop treatments.

“The findings from the GenOMICC COVID-19 Study will improve the treatment, care and outcome for those most at risk and lower the number of deaths.”

The research project is open to anyone who tested positive to COVID but experienced mild or no symptoms and didn’t require hospital treatment – volunteers can register online here.

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