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NIHR and UKRI launch call for research on COVID-19 and ethnicity

Published: 22 April 2020

The NIHR and UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) are jointly calling for research proposals to investigate emerging evidence of an association between ethnicity and COVID-19 incidence and adverse health outcomes.

The two organisations are seeking to fund research to further our understanding of potential differences in risk for ethnic groups, which groups are at greatest risk of a range of adverse outcomes, and, based on that understanding, how to reduce morbidity and mortality from COVID-19 in groups identified at greater risk.

They’re also seeking proposals on the impact of COVID-19 specifically on people from black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) backgrounds working in health and social care.

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% of critically ill coronavirus patients are from BAME backgrounds. According to the 2011 Census, 14% 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.

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 initiative is designed to complement a rapid review by Public Health England of how COVID-19 affects people differently according to ethnic group, age and gender.

Part of their work will involve linking existing datasets, to create more robust data for confirmed cases of COVID-19 by ethnicity. This will help to establish if people from certain ethnic groups are disproportionately affected or at greater risk.

Public Health England will also analyse numbers and rates of confirmed cases, hospitalisations and mortality by ethnicity, while also reviewing cases by age, sex and geographical region.

This funding round forms part of a rolling call for research proposals on COVID-19, run by NIHR and UKRI. To date the two organisations have jointly invested £25 million into 27 research projects to respond to the pandemic, including research on treatments, vaccines and the spread of the virus.

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