Covid pandemic: Impact of racism and discrimination on death rate cannot be ignored – Dr Gwenetta Curry

It has been over a year since Covid-19 lockdown measures were put in place to reduce the spread of the virus.

There have been a total of 236,000 cases in Scotland and 7,669 deaths since the beginning of the pandemic. Science has advanced quickly allowing for a greater understanding of how the virus is transmitted with the incredible development of vaccines in less than a year’s time.

In Scotland alone, over three million people have received their first dose of the vaccine and over two million are fully vaccinated. Although we have made undeniable progress in combating the virus, the threat of another wave looms.

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Most of the country’s restrictions have been reduced to level one or two which allows for more contact between people inside and outside the home.

Last summer Scotland was able to reduce the number of daily cases to single digits and zero deaths, but the second wave arrived shortly after restrictions were lifted. As we move into summer this year, we do not want to repeat the mistakes of our past and holiday travellers have been asked to take extreme precautions to help reduce the chances of a third wave.

While progress in stopping the spread has been notable, the pandemic has highlighted a number health inequalities in the country.

A report published by Public Health Scotland in May of last year demonstrated that ethnic minorities were being disproportionately impacted by the virus, but overall ethnicity data has been lacking.

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Deaths from Covid have been higher among people from deprived areas and some ethnic minorities (Picture: Adrian Dennis/AFP via Getty Images)

The available data indicated that South Asians had a greater risk of dying from Covid-19 compared to their white counterparts after accounting for age, sex, deprivation and urban/rural classification.

There wasn’t enough data on other ethnic groups to complete a proper statistical analysis. Office for National Statistics’ data included a more complete picture of the ethnic and racial disparities, noting that Black women and men had the highest rate of death of all ethnic groups.

The most recent data clearly indicate that where someone lives and works has a major impact on their vulnerability to the Covid-19 virus.

Moving forward, we must work to address not only the impact of deprivation but also systemic racism that creates conditions for ethnic minorities to suffer disproportionately.

The age-standardised mortality rate for Covid-19 death was 3.1 per 100,000 population for the most deprived areas in England in July 2020 which was significantly higher than the 1.4 deaths per 100,000 population in the least deprived areas.

These types of disparities must be addressed as we strive for equity in our society. Even after considering pre-existing conditions, geography, and socioeconomic status, Black African women and men continued to have a higher rate of death from Covid-19.

As research continues to develop, we must not ignore the impact of racism and discrimination on health outcomes. If this pandemic has taught us anything, it is the fact that we need to take better care of the people in society who care for and provide services for others in their daily occupations.

Health and social care workers, the transportation sector, and food producers/manufacturers must be protected if we are going to survive the next pandemic.

Dr Gwenetta Curry is an Edinburgh University lecturer on race, ethnicity and health

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