Britain Reviewing Racial Bias in Pulse Oximeters Related to COVID Deaths
In SummaryThe Health Secretary in Britain is investigating the role racial bias in pulse oximeters played in the disproportionate COVID-19 deaths of Black and Asian people.
The British government is investigating the role racial bias played in some medical devices as Black and Asian people died disproportionately from COVID-19.
According to the Associated Press, Britain’s Health Secretary Sajid Javid said the pandemic highlighted health disparities along the lines of race and gender.
Javid said one-third of people admitted to intensive care units in Britain at the height of the pandemic were people who were Black and part of ethnic minorities. Data also showed that in the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic, Black and South Asian residents in the country had higher death rates than their white counterparts.
Research revealed what Javid is calling a “systemic” worldwide issue with pulse oximeters, a test used to measure blood oxygen levels. He said the tests do not work as well on people with darker skin tones. “Now, I’m not saying this was deliberate by anyone, I think it’s just, it’s a system issue potentially, with medical devices and it may go even further than that with medical textbooks, for example,” Javid said.
A December 2020 article from The New England Journal of Medicine published results from a study on pulse oximeters. It found that “reliance on pulse oximetry to triage patients and adjust supplemental oxygen levels may place Black patients at increased risk for hypoxemia.”
Javid hopes to work with United States Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra and officials from other countries to eliminate bias in the health system.
Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that as early as Summer 2020, Hispanic Americans, American Indian or Alaska Natives and Black Americans had higher rates of COVID-19 cases compared to white Americans. Data from the COVID Tracking Project also revealed Black people have died from COVID-19 at rates 1.4 times higher than that of white people.