Is the coronavirus hitting hard at minorities?

Health experts and academics are researching on the factors that could be driving the association between Covid-19 and ethnicity.

 |  3-minute read |   11-05-2020
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Pop star Madonna called the coronavirus pandemic a great equaliser. "It doesn't care about how rich you are, how famous you are, how funny you are, how smart you are, where you live, how old you are," she said in a now-deleted video on Instagram.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi also echoed a similar statement when he said that "Covid-19 does not see race, religion, colour, caste, creed, language or borders before striking."

Former Finance Minister, P Chidambaram said, “Covid-19 respects no national borders, and it does not discriminate on grounds of religion, caste, race, sex, and place of birth. In a perverse sense, the virus respects Articles 14 and 15 of the Constitution of India.”

However, several news reports in the past few days suggest findings contrary to what Madonna, Modi or Chidambaram have said. The reports say that minorities are on the receiving end of the virus. 

main1_indian-muslim1_051120021524.jpgAs of May 3, of the 548 deaths recorded in Maharashtra, 239 cases (44 per cent) are from the minority Muslim community. (Representative photo: Reuters)

On May 7, 2020, Indian Express reported that as of May 3, 239 cases of the 548 deaths recorded in Maharashtra, accounting for 44 per cent, are from the minority Muslim community — more than thrice their share (just under 12 per cent) in the state’s population. According to this report, state officials and experts point to several reasons behind this, including curbs on travellers from the Gulf coming as late as mid-March; Friday prayers in many mosques that continued until March 20; a significant share of the community living in neighbourhoods where social distancing is difficult, population density being high, and poor access to healthcare.

main_african-america_051120022008.jpgCNN reported that African Americans are dying at disproportionately higher rates compared to all other ethnicities. (Representative photo: Reuters)

On May 9, CNN reported that African Americans are dying at disproportionately higher rates compared to all other ethnicities. According to an analysis from the American Public Media (APM) Research Lab, 16,329 black Americans have died due to Covid-19. That's out of approximately 61,000 deaths for which race and ethnicity data were available. African Americans make up about 13 per cent of the US population, but 27 per cent of known Covid-19 deaths. In contrast, about 60 per cent of the US population is white, but account for 49 per cent of known Covid-19 deaths.

Hispanics or Latinos are about 18 per cent of the population, and 17 per cent of deaths. Americans of Asian descent make up about six per cent of the population and five per cent of deaths.

Based on analysis by the Office for National Statistics (ONS), Hindustan Times reported on May 7 that Indian and other non-white males are 4.2 times more likely to die from a Covid-19-related death. The ONS said, “People of Bangladeshi and Pakistani, Indian, and mixed ethnicities also had a statistically significant raised risk of death involving Covid-19 compared with those of White ethnicity.”

According to the ONS, these results show that “the difference between ethnic groups in Covid-19 mortality is partly a result of socio-economic disadvantage and other circumstances, but a remaining part of the difference has not yet been explained”.

Health experts and academics are researching on the factors that could be driving the association between Covid-19 and ethnicity. But one apparent reason could be poverty. African Americans tend to be poorer and less able to socially distance because of their working and living conditions. According to Arvind Panagariya, former vice-chairman, NITI Ayog, one in four Muslims (rural and urban) are poor. Like elsewhere, people from minority communities in India often live more closely together than in the general population. 

Also read: I'm a doctor. And I'm worried other doctors' dislike for Muslims may even overrule the Hippocratic Oath

Writer

Ashok Upadhyay Ashok Upadhyay @ashoupadhyay

Editor, India Today Television.

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