It’s not genetics, vitamin D, underlying conditions, or lifestyle choices causing disproportionate deaths of black and Asian people from Covid-19. It is poverty and racism, says a report by Doctors in Unite.
The death rate for black and Asian people in the UK from Covid-19 is three to four times higher than it is for white people.
“While many experts agree that exposure to the virus is important, others propose alternative explanations, such as genetic differences between races, lifestyle factors, and vitamin D deficiency,” said Dr Jackie Applebee, a GP in Tower Hamlets and chair of Doctors in Unite.
“In fact, the causes are very clear – as with almost all other diseases, poverty and racism determine who gets sick and dies most from Covid-19. The alternative explanations are simply distractions, do not stand up to scrutiny, and obstruct, confuse and delay efforts to address the underlying causes,” she added.
Doctors in Unite have produced an analysis of the underlying causes of the disparities in deaths from Covid-19 by different racial groups in the UK.
Significantly greater rates
“While not written in response to the Sewell report our report refutes many of the assertions in the Sewell report about why people in almost all ethnic minorities are dying at significantly greater rates than the white majority,” said Dr Applebee.
“As with criticisms of the Sewell report in general, the section on Covid-19 cherry picks data, provides no evidence for some of its assertions, while in others it directly contradicts well-established facts,” she added.
The government came under fierce criticism after commissioning the Sewell report on racial disparities in the UK, which critics including Unite said failed to take seriously the lived experiences of racism by Black and Asian Ethnic Minority (BAEM) communities.
The report was completed just before the publication of the government commissioned report into ‘racial and ethnic disparities in the UK’, by a panel chaired by Tony Sewell.
Denial and indifference
“Its findings are unsurprising given the well-known racism denialist views of Sewell and others on the panel, and is consistent with the government’s policy of denial and indifference to racism in the UK today,” said Dr Applebee.
Any other plausible reason
“As with other reports which cannot come up with any other plausible reason to explain inconvenient facts about racism, it cites the mantra – ‘more research is needed’,” said Dr Applebee.
“It also completely ignores the detailed SAGE report on Covid-19 and ethnicity, published in September 2020, perhaps because the SAGE report said that structural racism is central to the racial disparities in deaths from Covid-19,” she added.
The main contention of the report, that structural and institutional racism do not exist, is flatly contradicted by the SAGE report.
The SAGE report is not mentioned at all in the Sewell report, despite the fact that the committee has much greater expertise.
“Our report highlights there is no evidence of genetic causes, as even a cursory examination of death rates in different countries demonstrates. There is no evidence that different racial groups adopt more risky behaviours or that their cultural practices put them more at risk of Covid-19, or that lifestyle choices are materially different,” said Dr Applebee.
Detailed work by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) has clearly shown that underlying health conditions do not explain the disparities.
The health section of the report has been roundly condemned by public health and primary care experts who state that it ignores decades of evidence of the causes of racial disparities in health.
“Undeniably after correcting for all the other known factors like age, geography, socio-economic factors and underlying health conditions, there are still major differences in death rates for all ethnic minorities, apart from Chinese people. It is quite clear that institutional and inter-personal racism is responsible for this,” said Dr Applebee.
“In the words of Lady Doreen Lawrence, mother of Stephen Lawrence who was murdered by white racists in 1993, the Sewell report ‘will give the green light to racists’ in this country,” she added.
By Jody Whitehill