Racism in clinical trials and health care – what must be done? by Anandi Ramamurthy
Ethnic minorities are currently underrepresented in vaccine clinical trials taking place across the UK. There are only 11,000 volunteers from Asian and British Asian backgrounds (4.3%) and 1,200 from Black, African, Caribbean or Black British backgrounds (0.5%) in current vaccine trials. The NHIR are keen to recruit more people from minority ethnic backgrounds. Yet there is a history of exploitation of the black body that makes Black Africans in particular less likely to trust vaccines and clinical trials. The most famous example is the Tuskegee syphilis trial in the 1950s that recruited black men by enticing mainly black sharecroppers with ‘medical exams, rides to and from the clinics, meals on examination days, free treatment for minor ailments, and guarantees that provisions would be made after their deaths in terms of burial stipends paid to their survivors’. Even though a treatment for Syphilis was found in 1947, the researchers failed to use this treatment for the black men enrolled in the trial. It lead to many infecting their partners and dying of the disease. When long acting injectable contraceptives were first introduced such as Norplant and Depo-provera, women in the Global South were disproportionately given the contraceptive, despite its alarming side effects of weight gain and menstrual chaos. The idea that the Global South is a testing ground for new medications and vaccines is still voiced today. French doctors were accused of racism in April 2020 when they suggested that the Coronavirus vaccine should be trialled in Africa, because people did not have access to masks or treatment for the disease and so were highly exposed. Such attitudes obviously make people of colour all over the world cautious about taking part in medical trials. Aina Khan highlights the scepticism. UK: Why do some ethnic minorities fear the coronavirus vaccine? | Coronavirus pandemic News | Al Jazeera
To support the development of treatments for all the medical community has to act to challenge racism. This includes racism in the NHS. Harvard professor David Williams who specialises in the social influences on health has called for the establishment of a health observatory in the UK to look at the effects of racial discrimination on patients. At the end of May, after the devastating effect of coronavirus on black communities the NHS set up a Race and Health Observatory. Recently a Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights found that two thirds of Black Britons believe that the NHS gives better care to white people. Two-thirds of black Britons believe NHS gives white people better care, finds survey | Race | The Guardian However, to tackle racism in health, we must look at the experience of racism amongst health workers. The Nursing Narratives research project aims to highlight the experiences of racism amongst nurses, support workers and care workers in health care in the UK. It is only through recognising that racism exists that we can tackle it. It is only when all health workers are treated equally that the NHS can truly deliver equitable care. Do you work in health and social care? Please take our 5 min survey.