Six new projects hoping to further improve understanding of the links between ethnicity and susceptibility to COVID-19 are being funded by the NIHR and UK Research and Innovation (UKRI).

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.

The move follows emerging evidence showing people from BAME backgrounds are nearly twice as likely to die of COVID-19 than white people.

Specifically, the projects will receive funding of £4.3 million to: explore the impact of the virus specifically on migrant and refugee groups; work with BAME communities to create targeted, digital health messages; introduce a new framework to ensure the representation of people from BAME backgrounds in COVID-19 clinical trials; and the creation of one the UK’s largest COVID-19 cohorts.

"With evidence showing that people from Black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds are more severely affected by COVID-19, it is critical that we understand what factors are driving this risk to address them effectively," said chief medical officer for England and head of the NIHR Professor Chris Whitty.

“The diverse range of projects funded by the NIHR and UKRI will help examine this association in detail, so that new treatments and approaches to care can be developed to target the ethnicities most at risk. This research will have embedded patient and public involvement with Black, Asian and minority ethnic groups at all stages of the research."

“Urgent action must be taken to determine and address the factors underlying this disparity,” added UKRI chief executive, Professor Dame Ottoline Leyser. “There is unlikely to be a simple answer and we must consider all possibilities, including the role of racial and social inequalities, so that we can save as many lives as possible during this pandemic and any future outbreaks.”

The NIHR is also working to encourage people from BAME backgrounds to take part in COVID-19 research and ensure that researchers include these communities in their studies.