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Diabetic Indians at Higher Risk of Coronavirus Infections and Deaths in UK, Finds New Study

Image used for representation. (REUTERS)

Image used for representation. (REUTERS)

A new study by the University of Edinburgh also found that there is a 20 per cent increase in risk of death in those who have South Asian heritage.

A new study now demonstrates what was always indicated through scattered findings earlier –many more Indians and other South Asians have died of coronavirus in Britain.

This pattern of disproportionately high South Asian deaths has been reported by CNN-News18 since the early days of the pandemic in Britain -- from March of this year.

A new study by the University of Edinburgh has established that and also pointed to the cause always suspected to be behind this pattern – the very much higher-than-average incidence of diabetes among South Asians.

The findings emerged through a study of 35,000 individuals in hospital in the UK with coronavirus.

“We found that there is a 20 per cent increase in risk of death in those who have South Asian heritage,” Prof Ewen Harrison from the University of Edinburgh that conducted the study told CNN-News18 in an interview.

“The two groups look very different, the South Asian versus the white group,” said Prof Harrison.

“South Asians are more likely to be young, and more likely to have diseases such as lung disease, obesity, or dementia. But what was more striking was that they were more likely to have diabetes. Four out of 10 South Asian people in hospital with coronavirus had diabetes.”

The age difference in deaths among Indians and other South Asians was dramatic. “There is a difference of 12 years on average between South Asians and the white population, which is quite a large difference,” Prof Harrison said. “The average age of death was 60 among South Asians compared to 72 in the white group.”

The study throws up higher risks also among the elderly South Asians relative to the white population of Britain. “Our study does show that the very elderly South Asian people are at greater risk than white people among those above 80 years of age,” said Prof Harrison.

Age and obesity have already been known to be major risk factors. “Both white people and South Asians are at risk through obesity and being older, but diabetes was the one clear factor we identified which differentiated the white and South Asian group,” said the professor said.

“We think that a fifth of the increased risk of death in the South Asians is due to diabetes.”

The increased susceptibility of Indians and other South Asians to diabetes has been well known and clearly established by a number of studies in Britain over several years.

“The extra detail this study has brought is that even after getting into hospital when things might be considered to be more equal, South Asian folks are at higher risk of death,” said Prof Harrison.

With more than 42,000 coronavirus deaths now officially recorded in Britain – or more than 50,000 going by other official records that list COVID-19 as a factor in the death certificate – and the high number of South Asian deaths indicated by this study, the number of Indian deaths in Britain is inevitably high.

Indians make up for highest number of South Asians in Britain. The study does not break down national origins with the South Asian group. But there would be other factors to consider, said Prof Harrison.

“Communities are varied in terms of socio-economic deprivation, and occupations, and there may be differences between those of Indian heritage and those of other heritage, but we did not have information in the current study to be able to look at that in detail.”

What is now without doubt is that Indians, certainly in Britain, are clearly at risk both of getting coronavirus, “but potentially the greater risk, having got coronavirus, of having severe disease or dying from the disease,” the professor said.

“Diabetes is a condition that affects lots of organs, the heart, kidneys and liver. Anyone becoming significantly unwell who also has diabetes is at increased risk of complications or death from that condition.”

The findings have wide-ranging implications both for treatment and prevention.

“Ethnicity and pre-existing conditions such as diabetes need to be taken into account when individuals are judging how they should try and live their lives through these very difficult times for everybody,” Prof Harrison said.

However, he added, contracting the virus or dying from it are far from unavoidable consequences for diabetics. “There is certainly no binary conclusion that should be drawn from our study on diabetes or ethnicity,” he said.

“But what is clear that both ethnicity and diabetes must now be taken into account when the other risks are being added up.”