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Global Pandemic - the great leveller?

Chika Aghadiuno, chair of the IFoA’s Diversity Advisory Group, blogs on how the coronavirus crisis is exposing inequities in society.

Chika Aghadiuno, chair of the IFoA’s Diversity Advisory GroupWe often hear that the coronavirus pandemic (Covid-19) does not discriminate in terms of those who contract the disease. Perhaps, but the evidence that is coming out in terms of those most impacted and the profile of the deaths is troubling, if not completely surprising. 

Provocatively, you could go further and reflect on how the disease has spread across borders - skiers and other tourists unwittingly bringing the disease back to their home countries. And of course it is often the more advantaged of our global societies who are able to afford this travel.  

Transmission of the disease, though, is more prevalent in circumstances associated with the less advantaged in our societies - cramped accommodation, workers in sectors and industries less able to work from home, and those more likely to be suffering from many of the identified underlying conditions, e.g. diabetes, obesity, heart disease. So - disadvantaged and minority groups appear to be more at risk and some suggestions are that they are over-represented in the Covid19 deaths.  

Existing inequities amplified 

Many of the health workers and carers at the frontline of the pandemic are often lower paid and, in the UK, from BAME (black, Asian and minority ethnic) backgrounds. 

The British Medical Association (BMA) recently reported that the first 10 doctors named to have died from Covid19 were all from a BAME background. The head of the BMA also noted that the BAME population in the UK accounted for a third of those in intensive care with Covid19 - despite being just 14% of the general population. 

Inequities existing prior to the epidemic are being amplified in the face of this global pandemic with the most serious of consequences.  

What can be done? 

This inequity of outcomes is not exclusive to Covid19 and has been seen in past pandemics. So should we just accept this as a reality? I think not. There is plenty we can do and it is clear that many people are doing great things. 

Some of you will have responded to the call for NHS volunteers, committing time to support in whatever way is needed. Others are coming up with initiatives and supporting individuals and local communities in a stunning show of community spirit. 

I was interested to hear that some actuaries have been taken on to support the analysis and modelling at the NHS and other bodies. I hope that anyone in a position to access and analyse the data will be able to help provide some insight as to any cohorts in our society that are disproportionately impacted and this is then confronted. 

I hope that anyone in a position to access and analyse the data will be able to help provide some insight as to any cohorts in our society that are disproportionately impacted and this is then confronted."

Looking out for each other 

As we adapt to lockdown, I am minded to think of those in circumstances less fortunate than mine. Families cooped up with children and potentially older relatives without the luxury of a garden; those who live alone and are struggling with complete isolation; those furloughed or made redundant and experiencing the stress of managing financially in the midst and the aftermath of this crisis; the many individual stories and traumas of separation and loss being played out on a daily basis.  

To the extent that there may well prove to be underlying issues of inequity in this ongoing Covid19 pandemic, whether it be racial, social, economic or other, it will reinforce the need for continued focus on achieving equity in the workplace alongside society in general. 

We all have a role to play in this. Right now this can be as simple as looking out for family, friends and colleagues, being fully aware and responsive. Let’s see what we can do to stay safe, flatten the curve and bridge gaps.