U.K. probes racial bias in medical devices due to disproportionate racialized COVID-19 deaths

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 that the pandemic had highlighted health disparities along race and gender lines. He said that 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 like 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. He called it a “systemic” worldwide issue. “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.

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