The results of a new study from the United Kingdom indicate that, among a cohort of over 400 pregnant women, those who are black or of ethnic minority backgrounds were some of the most likely to be hospitalized with COVID-19.
A recent analysis of medical records in the U.K. has shown that black people are four times more likely than their white counterparts to test positive for COVID-19, the disease that can result from an infection with the new coronavirus.
Other researchers have picked up on “mounting evidence” of the pandemic’s disproportionate impact on black people and people of ethnic minorities in the U.K. and elsewhere.
In an interview with Medical News Today, Prof. Tiffany Green, an expert on race-related health disparities from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, explained that, to a great extent, the increased risk of infection and poor outcomes among people of color is due to widespread discrimination.
This pervasive discrimination, she told MNT, is likely to lead to greater exposure to environments in which the virus spreads more easily, as well as to reduced access to medical care when needed.
As a result, it may come as no surprise that a new study from the U.K., made available online in preprint form, has found that among pregnant women hospitalized with COVID-19 in the country, as many as 56% were women who are black or of ethnic minorities.
The new study was conducted by investigators from the University of
Oxford, King’s College London, the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital, the University of Leeds, Imperial College London, University College London, and the University of Birmingham.
The researchers analyzed data from 427 pregnant women admitted to hospitals after having tested positive for SARS-CoV-2 infection between March 1 and April 14, 2020. They also compared birth outcomes with those of 694 healthy women who gave birth between November 11, 2017 and October 31, 2018.
Even after they adjusted for possible confounding factors, such as obesity and overweight or preexisting medical conditions, the researchers found that pregnant women who are black or of ethnic minorities were still significantly more likely to be hospitalized with COVID-19 than pregnant white women.
After the team publicized their analysis, the Royal College of Midwives (RCM) and the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG) were moved to issue an official response.
In their statement, the RCM and RCOG note that they are in the process of updating their guidelines for healthcare professionals in response to the worrying findings.
“It is of great concern that over half […] of pregnant women admitted to hospital with coronavirus were from a BAME [Black, Asian, and minority ethnic] background, and this deepens our concerns around persisting vulnerabilities of this particular group of women,” said Dr. Christine Ekechi, spokesperson on racial equality for the RCOG.
“We are updating our guidance to reflect that BAME women should be told, at each contact with a health professional, that they may be at higher risk of complications of coronavirus and advised to seek help early if they are concerned about their health,” she added.
Dr. Ekechi also noted that the RCOG will be advising healthcare professionals to adopt “a lower threshold” in referring pregnant women of color to specialized care in the context of COVID-19.
The researchers behind the current study, including first author Prof. Marian Knight — who specializes in obstetrics, neonatology, and public health — warn that:
“The strong association between admission with infection and black or minority ethnicity requires urgent investigation and explanation.”
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