This trend report summarises recent research which shows that underlying health conditions, like heart disease and diabetes, lead to a greater risk of death among COVID-19 patients. Also, poor living and working conditions and dense urban environments raise the likelihood of infection (Kirby, 2020).

Higher likelihood of co-morbidities 

COVID-19 patients with underlying co-morbidities such as heart disease and diabetes can experience worse symptoms that may even lead to death (Zheng, 2020). African Americans are more likely to suffer from diabetes, asthma, hypertension, kidney disease, and obesity compared to white populations. African Americans represent 33% of COVID-19 hospitalisations in the USA, yet they only represent 18% of the total population. Further, deaths per 100,000 people of Hispanic or Latino communities disproportionately high (74·3) to the white community in America (45·2) (Kirby, 2020).

Among the population in the UK, the Institute for Fiscal Studies found that the death rate is 3.5 times higher amongst people of black African descent compared to that among white British people.

In Australia, members of indigenous communities are 1 in 3 times more likely to suffer from cardiovascular disease and diabetes than the non-indigenous population and therefore, extremely vulnerable to COVID-19 (Kirby, 2020).

Poor living conditions 

In the UK and US, ethnic minority communities are more likely to live in densely populated areas. “Race disparities in those diseases are not large enough to fully explain the COVID-19 death disparity,” says LaVeist, Dean of the School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine at Tulane University. He suggests pre-existing conditions are unlikely to be the sole determinant (Kirby, 2020).

“Race disparities in those diseases are not large enough to fully explain the COVID-19 death disparity,”

Due to overcrowded houses and poor basic conditions of indigenous Australian communities could be disproportionately at risk. Similarly, refugee (Khan, 2020) and migrant worker (Hameed, 2020) living in overcrowded conditions are a cause for concern.

Poor economic circumstances

Ethnic minorities are more likely to work in service jobs without sick pay, and more likely to go to work under challenging circumstances, risking exposure to the disease.  The data indicate that vulnerable and more impoverished community are more at risk due to pre-existing conditions, poor living conditions, and overcrowding, which are crucial public health social determinants to consider when addressing the spread of COVID-19. 

12 May 2020

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