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COVID-19: society's response discriminates against ethnic minorities and migrants

Society's response to COVID-19 is harming ethnic minorities and migrants, according to global health experts writing in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine. The risk of contracting COVID-19, the severity of the illness and the risk of poor health related to the policies and actions responding to the pandemic are all increased in minority groups, the authors write.

“Black, Asian and minority ethnic and migrant groups have a greater risk of contracting COVID-19 infection, as they are more likely to live in poor and overcrowded accommodation and do precarious forms of work or work in the gig economy. They are also more likely to get a severe form of the infection,” said lead author Dr Delan Devakumar, of the Institute for Global Health at University College London.

Many migrant groups, especially those without documents, are less likely to seek help, or may seek help later, with more advanced disease, according to the authors. The UK Government’s ‘hostile environment’ policy, they write, including barriers to accessing the health service, such as upfront charging and the sharing of data with the Home Office, has led to migrants avoiding healthcare.

With the UK and the world more generally likely to enter one of the deepest recessions in a lifetime, the authors say that the poorest, with insecure employment and most vulnerable in terms of health, are at risk for other stress-related health problems, especially mental health issues, that increase in times of recession.

“Economic hardship is a fertile ground for populist movements to thrive and sadly, many world leaders have used the COVID-19 outbreak, mixing public health actions with divisive policies to further their own agendas,” said Dr Devakumar, adding that minority and marginalised groups will bear the brunt.

“To successfully combat a pandemic, health protection measures rely on well-prepared and well-functioning health services that treat and support everyone, ensuring those most at risk are protected. Public health principles based around equity should be firmly at the core of the world’s response.”

Notes to editors

COVID-19: the great unequaliser (DOI: 10.1177/0141076820925434) by Delan Devakumar, Sunil S Bhopal and Geordan Shannon will be published by the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine at 00:05 hrs (UK time) on Thursday 11 June 2020.

The link for the full text version of the paper when published will be:

For further information or a copy of the paper please contact:

Rosalind Dewar
Media Office, Royal Society of Medicine
DL: +44 (0) 1580 764713
M: +44 (0) 7785 182732

The Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine (JRSM) is a leading voice in the UK and internationally for medicine and healthcare. Published continuously since 1809, JRSM features scholarly comment and clinical research. JRSM is editorially independent from the Royal Society of Medicine, and its editor is Dr Kamran Abbasi.

JRSM is a journal of the Royal Society of Medicine and it is published by SAGE Publishing.

Sara Miller McCune founded SAGE Publishing in 1965 to support the dissemination of usable knowledge and educate a global community. SAGE is a leading international provider of innovative, high-quality content publishing more than 1000 journals and over 800 new books each year, spanning a wide range of subject areas. A growing selection of library products includes archives, data, case studies and video. SAGE remains majority owned by our founder and after her lifetime will become owned by a charitable trust that secures the company’s continued independence. Principal offices are located in Los Angeles, London, New Delhi, Singapore, Washington DC and Melbourne.

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