Multi-million investment in six new research projects to investigate Covid-19 and ethnicity

Multi-million investment in six new research projects to investigate Covid-19 and ethnicity

The University of Aberdeen is leading one of six new projects to improve our understanding of the links between Covid-19 and ethnicity, funded by UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) and the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR).

The projects will seek to explain and mitigate the disproportionate death rate from Covid-19 among people from Black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) backgrounds, including BAME health and social care workers.

Emerging evidence shows that, after taking account of age and other sociodemographic factors, BAME people are nearly twice as likely to die of Covid-19 than white people. There is an urgent need for more detailed data on why Covid-19 disproportionately impacts people from BAME backgrounds, building the essential evidence base needed to make recommendations to decision makers and protect the health of these groups.

The projects, which total £4.3 million worth of funding, will explore; the impact of the virus specifically on migrant and refugee groups; work with key voices within BAME communities to create targeted, digital health messages; the introduction of a new framework to ensure the representation of people from BAME backgrounds in clinical trials testing new treatments and vaccines for Covid-19; and the creation of one the UK’s largest Covid-19 cohorts.

This group of projects forms part of a rolling call for research proposals on Covid-19, jointly funded by UKRI and NIHR in response to the pandemic, and includes research on treatments, vaccines and the spread of the virus, as well as specific calls on Covid-19 and ethnicity, and the wider impact of the virus on mental health.

Professor Shaun Treweek from the University of Aberdeen has been awarded £15,000 to rapidly complete a tool called the INCLUDE Ethnicity Framework which will enable the designers of clinical trials to consider the factors that may reduce the inclusion of BAME participants, such as existing disease, culture, treatment being tested, and trial information and procedures.

The framework will be applied to three to five trials, including Covid-19, to produce an example set for other trialists to use when planning future Covid-19 trials. It will also help those not involved directly in the trial interpret and report the results in a way to make judgements about the applicability of trial results to BAME communities. The framework will be equally useful for ensuring that non-Covid trials consider ethnicity too.

Professor Shaun Treweek from the Health Services Research Unit at the University of Aberdeen said: “For black, Asian and minority ethnic involvement in research to improve, thinking about participants’ ethnicity when designing and reporting research needs to become as routine as thinking about their age and sex.  Researchers, research funders, public health and policy agencies all have a duty to ensure that concerted action is taken for research studies to serve and represent the whole community not just part of it.”

The six projects build on the UK’s world-class expertise and capability in global heath and infectious disease that has already shaped our understanding of the pandemic and is informing measures to tackle it.

UK Research and Innovation Chief Executive, Professor Dame Ottoline Leyser, said: “It is now abundantly clear that Covid-19 disproportionately affects people from Black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds. Urgent action must be taken to determine and address the factors underlying this disparity. There is unlikely to be a simple answer and we must consider all possibilities, reflected in the range of projects we have funded, so that we can save as many lives as possible during this pandemic and any future outbreaks.”