Jeane Freeman urged to consider Vitamin D campaign

The Scottish Government has been urged to launch a campaign encouraging black and ethnic minority Scots to take vitamin D supplements to improve their immune defence against coronavirus.
Anas Sarwar has urged Health Secretary Jeane Freeman to help BAME communities protect themselves against coronavirus.Anas Sarwar has urged Health Secretary Jeane Freeman to help BAME communities protect themselves against coronavirus.
Anas Sarwar has urged Health Secretary Jeane Freeman to help BAME communities protect themselves against coronavirus.

Scottish Labour MSP Anas Sarwar has written to the Health Secretary, Jeane Freeman, raising concerns about the impact of Covid-19 on Scotland's ethnic minority communities, and urged her to get more BAME Scots taking vitamin supplements.

He has also demanded to know what action the government has taken since a 2015 medical report showed that the Scottish Pakistani community was at a higher risk of contracting respiratory diseases.

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Recent figures from the Office for National Statistics have shown that in England and Wales black males are 4.2 times more likely to die from a Covid-19-related death than white males.

Other data has shown that that 72 per cent of all UK health and social care staff who have died with Covid-19 are BAME, and deaths among ethnic minorities in the general population account for 34 per cent of patients admitted to UK intensive care units with coronavirus – despite BAME people making up just 13.4 per cent of the UK’s population.

Mr Sarwar said that the government needed to recognise “there is a disproportionate impact on Scotland’s entire BAME community because of work, societal and natural reasons.”

And he has asked that it record, publish and analyse detailed data on the impact of coronavirus on Scotland’s BAME population, work with Public Health England in its inquiry into why BAME people appear to be most at risk, and consider whether a Scottish inquiry is necessary, and recognise that BAME frontline healthcare workers require ‘risk assessment’ of their roles.

Raising a 2015 study in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine on the rate of lower respiratory tract infections in Scots Pakistani men and women, which showed they were at particular risk of infection and hospitalisation, he has also asked Ms Freeman to say what action the Scottish Government and NHS Scotland had taken to tackle the issue.

Mr Sarwar said: “In return for the lifesaving work they are doing on the frontline, Scotland’s ethnic minority communities deserve to know whether they are at a greater risk from COVID-19 and - if so - what steps can be taken to prevent further loss of life.

“I have written to the Scottish Government with a number of questions and recommendations, including what lessons were learnt from a 2015 study into high rates of lower respiratory tract infection among Scots of Pakistani origin.

“I believe tailored messaging for Scotland’s BAME population could improve health outcomes, including the promotion of vitamin D supplements. The Health Secretary assures me that she takes this very seriously and I welcome the opportunity for further discussions with her this week.”

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Scientists have recently suggested a link between a lack of vitamin D and serious complications in coronavirus patients. Vitamin D is produced in the skin from UVB sunlight exposure and helps increase calcium intake to keep your bones strong. It can also support the immune system, which could help fight Covid-19.

However it is converted to its active form by the action of sunlight on the skin which can be impeded by having dark skin and leads to low levels of vitamin D in the body.

A study by Trinity College Dublin and University of Liverpool found “strong circumstantial evidence of associations between vitamin D and the severity of COVID-19 responses, including death”.

In countries like Spain and Italy where, despite higher exposure to the sun, vitamin D deficiency is very common, infections and deaths have been very high. In Scandanvian countries, where vitamin D supplements are taken regularly as a result of a lack of sunlight, the infections and deaths have been lower.Mr Sarwar has also

In his letter to Ms Freeman, Mr Sarwar said: “I have been contacted by many members of Scotland’s ethnic minority communities who are concerned about the impact of Covid-19 on BAME individuals.

“Earlier this month, Office for National Statistics data for England and Wales suggested that black males are 4.2 times more likely to die from a COVID-19-related death than white males, after accounting for age. People of Pakistani, Bangladeshi and Indian, and mixed ethnicities also have statistically significant raised risk of death.”

He said that the inquiry in England could “provide some answers to explain the worrying trends we are witnessing. However, as has been raised with the Scottish Government and in the media, no data on the Covid-19 impact on Scotland’s BAME people has been published. I have made it clear in public that I am deeply concerned by this continued absence of data.”

Mr Sarwar believes there are a number of factors which could contribute to the higher contraction and death rate, including the jobs BAME individuals do, living in areas of high deprivation, sharing their homes with their extended family which increased human interaction and a “natural reason” that dark skin leads to lower levels of Vitamin D, which in turn leads to weaker immune systems.

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He said that “following consultation with the government’s medical advisers” a campaign to encourage the uptake of vitamin D supplements could be beneficial “even if no link with coronavirus is later established.”

A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: "The Health Secretary responded directly to Mr Sarwar as soon as she received his correspondence, assuring him that she recognised he has raised important points and expressed a concern she shared.

“Ms Freeman also advised Mr Sarwar that she intended to provide a fuller response early next week with the view of having a further discussion with him.

“The Scottish Government is deeply concerned by recent reports indicating that minority ethnic communities may be disproportionately affected by Covid-19. It is crucial we have an accurate picture of how Covid-19 is impacting on minority ethnic communities in Scotland, so we can take the appropriate action.

“The Scottish Government has issued guidelines on vitamin D in light of the Covid-19 crisis. Our advice is that everyone (including pregnant and breastfeeding women, and children) should consider taking a daily supplement containing 10 micrograms (mcg) of vitamin D supplement to mitigate the effects of spending more time than usual indoors.

“We continue to consider what further advice on vitamin D may be appropriate as international understanding of this virus develops.

“The guidance is based on the latest evidence as presented by the Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition. In this, as in other matters, we are led by the science and we will continue to monitor the evidence closely.”

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