LONDON – The British government is investigating whether built-in racial bias in some medical devices led to Black and Asian people getting sick and dying disproportionately from COVID-19.
Health Secretary Sajid Javid said Sunday the pandemic had highlighted health disparities along race and gender lines. He said a third of intensive care admissions in Britain at the height of the pandemic were people from Black and ethnic minority backgrounds, more than double their share of the population.
Britain's statistics office has found that in the first year of the pandemic, up to March 2021, Black and South Asian people in the U.K. had higher death rates than their white compatriots, even after factors such as occupation and underlying health conditions were taken into account.
Javid said one issue was research showing that pulse oximeters, which measure blood oxygen levels through the skin, work less well on darker skin.
“Now, I'm not saying this was deliberate by anyone. I think it's just, it's a systemic issue potentially, with medical devices and it may go even further than that with medical textbooks, for example,” Javid told Sky News.
Writing in the Sunday Times, he said “the possibility that a bias – even an inadvertent one – could lead to a poorer health outcome is totally unacceptable.”
Javid said he hoped to work with his U.S. counterpart, Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra, and officials in other countries.
He said a U.K. review, which will also look at gender bias, will report its findings by the end of January.
Britain has recorded more than 143,000 coronavirus deaths, the highest total in Europe after Russia.
Europe is the only part of the world where cases are rising, and many countries are reintroducing restrictions. Austria will enter a nationwide lockdown today, and violent protests erupted in the Netherlands this weekend after the government said it would “restrict access for unvaccinated people to some venues.”
In the U.K., however, cases are broadly flat, and deaths and hospitalizations are slowly falling.
216 cases in county
The Allen County Department of Health on Sunday announced 216 more residents have tested positive for COVID-19, bringing the total to 63,830 confirmed cases.
As of Sunday's report, 848 Allen County residents had died.
The Indiana State Department of Health no longer provides weekend updates. As of Friday, 1,069,450 Hoosiers had confirmed cases of COVID-19 with 16,673 deaths.
– Sherry Slater, The Journal Gazette