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British South Asians Most Likely to Die in Hospital by COVID-19

  • South Asian people in Britain have a COVID-19 hospital mortality rate 20 percent higher than the white population.

    South Asian people in Britain have a COVID-19 hospital mortality rate 20 percent higher than the white population. | Photo: AFP

Published 19 June 2020

The research concluded that people from a south Asian background had a mortality rate in hospitals 20 percent higher than the white population.

People of South Asian heritage are the most likely in Great Britain to die after being admitted to hospital for COVID-19, the most significant study of its kind has found, The Guardian has reported Friday.

UK: Black People Four Times More Likely to Die From COVID-19

The research, which analyzed data from 40 percent of all people admitted to hospital with COVID-19 in England, Scotland and Wales between Feb. 6 and May 8, concluded that people from a south Asian background had a mortality rate in hospital 20 percent higher than the white population.

It said that the increased prevalence of diabetes in the British South Asian population, which encompasses mainly people of Indian, Pakistani, and Bangladeshi heritage, accounted for 18 percent of their increased mortality risk.

Prof Ewen Harrison, professor of surgery and data science and honorary consultant surgeon at the University of Edinburgh and the lead author of the study, said the remaining 82 percent of the increased risk was likely to be down to a combination of occupation, deprivation, and biological factors.

"They are all potential explanations that do have implications for policy around shielding, around the easing of lockdown and around, for instance, the provision of any preventative treatment or vaccination that may become available in the future," he said.

"As a country, we need to decide how to distribute those treatments as they become available … What this study does is it again squarely puts ethnicity in the center of discussions around risk factors for COVID-19."

The researchers, from 27 institutions across Britain, assessed data from 35,000 patients from 260 hospitals. The higher risk of death in patients from a south Asian background was observed despite the fact they were 12 years younger on average than the white population (60 years old versus 72 years old). 

British south Asians were less likely to have non-asthmatic lung disease and obesity than the white population but more likely to have diabetes (40 percent versus 25 percent), according to the study.

Prof Calum Semple, a professor in child health and outbreak medicine at the University of Liverpool, and chief investigator on the report said he believed occupation, which numerous studies on ethnicity and COVID-19 risk have been unable to take into account, was likely to be a significant factor.

"We fail to recognize the huge contribution that has been made by people from Asia to healthcare provision and public sector activity," he said.

"And because the public sector activities are very human facing, when I say public-facing I mean really face-to-face interactions, I have a suspicion that that has led to exposure risk, which is much greater than other parts of society," he highlighted.

"So, for example, healthcare workers, in care homes, nurses, all the way up to ear, nose and throat surgeons and opticians, you do find that the Asian community makes a significantly greater contribution to these sectors of work," he added.

Meanwhile, several other studies, including one by the Office for National Statistics, have found that black Britons, not just South Asians, are also at higher risk than the white population, and Harrison stressed that his and his colleagues' findings were not inconsistent with the previous research.

"It's still a likely possibility that there are more black people dying of coronavirus based on studies that have been done by others," he said.

"But what we're specifically looking at is those that are in hospital, so it doesn't contradict Public Health England and ONS figures that look at the population as a whole," he added. 

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