UK organisations call for investigation of ethnicity and COVID-19 incidence and outcome

The UK National Institute of Health Research (NIHR) and UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) wish to fund research exploring if people from black, Asian and middle eastern backgrounds are disproportionately at risk from COVID-19.

cartoon people of various ethnicities wearing face masks

The UK National Institute of Health Research (NIHR) and UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) are calling for proposals to investigate evidence suggesting an association between ethnicity and COVID-19 incidence and outcome.

The two organisations said they are looking to fund research that will further understanding of the potential difference in risk for ethnic groups, including which groups are at greatest risk of adverse outcomes and potential options to reduce morbidity and mortality from COVID-19 in these groups. The funding is part of a rolling call for research proposals on COVID-19, run by NIHR and UKRI.

The groups are also seeking proposals to establish the impact of COVID-19 specifically on people from black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) backgrounds working in health and social care.

According to the organisations, evidence is emerging that suggests people from BAME backgrounds are more likely to have poor outcomes from COVID-19. Data from the Intensive Care National Audit and Research Centre suggest that 34 percent of critically ill coronavirus patients are from BAME backgrounds. The 2011 Census suggests approximately 14 percent of the population in England and Wales are from BAME backgrounds.

There are also concerns that healthcare and other key workers who belong to BAME groups may be particularly at risk.

England’s Chief Medical Officer Professor Chris Whitty said: “Initial reports suggest there could be a disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on black, Asian and minority ethnic groups, in particular health and care professionals and other key workers. This NIHR and UKRI highlight notice calls for research to better understand this issue. This will encourage and enable our academic partners to provide evidence to address this complex question and help provide solutions.”

Medical Research Council Executive Chair, Professor Fiona Watt said: “The tragic deaths of frontline health and care workers have suggested a possible association between ethnicity and COVID-19 susceptibility. This is not a straightforward issue and we already know that certain ethnic groups are predisposed to some of the comorbidities that exacerbate the disease.

“Careful research is needed to distinguish between an innate susceptibility (for example, genetic) and socioeconomic, lifestyle and environmental factors. Our highlight notice is specifically inviting research proposals to tackle this complexity and, as a matter of urgency, shed light on this critical issue.”

The organisations said this initiative is intended to compliment a rapid review by Public Health England (PHE) of how COVID-19 affects people differently according to ethnic group, age and gender. Public Health England’s work is set to include linking existing datasets to create more robust data for confirmed cases of COVID-19 by ethnicity and establishing if people from certain ethnic groups are disproportionately affected or at greater risk. It will also analyse numbers and rates of confirmed cases, hospitalisations and mortality by ethnicity, age, sex and geographical region.

Click here to find out how to submit a research proposal to NIRH.