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Royal Surrey Consultant Wins Government Funding For ‘First of its Kind’ Covid-19 Study

Published on: 30 Jul, 2020
Updated on: 1 Aug, 2020

Professor Aftab Ala

A highly respected consultant at Royal Surrey NHS Foundation Trust has been awarded government funding for a ‘first of its kind’ study into the link between the Black, Asian and minority ethnic community and an increased risk of Covid-19.

The funding, more than £370,000, was awarded by UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) and National Institute for Health and Research (NIHR) after a fiercely competitive national application process.

Professor Aftab Ala, consultant gastroenterologist and hepatologist and his team of co-investigators presented to more than 130 civil servants at the Cabinet Office.

The study will look at whether health inequalities and predispositions to certain chronic diseases such as diabetes, may be factors for the higher risk of Covid-19 to the Black, Asian and minority ethnic population.

Professor Ala, Chief Investigator for the project, also outlined how factors such as faith, language, stigma and socio-economic status could be a reason for these differences in Covid-19 cases for BAME backgrounds.

He said: “This project is essential so we can get a clearer idea of the challenges and risks.

“There are a variety of reasons why people from these backgrounds may have a higher risk of contracting or becoming seriously ill from Covid-19, including for example their higher risk of diabetes and chronic lung disease.

“There could also be socio-economic factors such as living in more deprived areas, multi-generational houses, a distrust of the healthcare system or even language barriers.

“These are all things that the research programme will look into.”

A key part of the study will be to increase education about the virus and its risks, which will be done through nationally available educational documents offered in multiple languages, short films and mobile apps.

Professor Ala’s study will be supported by other trusts, universities, healthcare organisations and government bodies including Public Health England and NHS England.

The professor has worked at Royal Surrey NHS Foundation Trust since 2015 a\nd is also NIHR lead for hepatology South East England.

He has led many research programmes including international, national and regional studies into liver health, health inequality in hard-to-reach populations and rare conditions such as Wilson’s disease.

Dr Marianne Illsley, medical director for the Trust, said: “We are extremely proud of our Trust’s contribution to vital research studies both nationally and internationally.

“We encourage and support all of our colleagues who are involved in research programmes and Professor Ala is a great example of a clinician and academic.

“This study will be crucial to helping us all understand the increased risks to the Black, Asian and minority ethnic community from Covid-19 and what we can do as a healthcare system to combat this.”

The one year research project begins tomorrow, August 1.

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