COVID: Inaccurate medical device readings may have lead to unnecessary deaths

The health secretary, Sajid Javid noticed how coloured people have different readings than a white person on medical devices. Javid explores why is it so.

The first health secretary of colour in the UK, Sajid Javid, pondered over there were three times more coloured patients in ICU in the pandemic.

He made a keen observation and stated that it can be due to inaccurate medical device readings, which gave different results on coloured and white patients.

A torn health secretary in conversation with host, Andrew Marr on BBC said:

It is easy to look at a machine and assume that everyone’s getting the same experience. But technologies are created and developed by people, and so bias, however inadvertent, can be an issue here too.

Systemic racism

Though nothing has been asserted for certain, but Javid’s claims are backed by research and answers the question of why some medical devices show biased results, affecting only coloured patients.

When Marr questioned if Javid thought that individuals died because oxygen-measuring gadgets did not operate as effectively on persons with darker complexion.

Javid said:

I think possibly yes, yes. I don’t have the full facts.

Javid ponders whether there is still an undertone of prevalent racism which exists amidst the machine-makers, and wanted to further examine the state of systemic racism and bias in medical devices.

Javid adds:

So questions like who is writing the code, how a product is tested and who is sitting round the boardroom table are critical – especially when it comes to our health.

Faulty oximeters

According to studies, oximeters, which assess the amount of oxygen in a person's blood, work less effectively for individuals with darker complexions, resulting in preventable fatalities.

On Sunday, Javid told Sky News' Trevor Philips that COVID had brought up the issue of health inequities, and he will take necessary steps to combat it.

Javid expressed:

If you were from a BME background, a third of admissions were from [a] BME background in ICU units at the height of the crisis, and that’s more than double the representation of the population.

The health secretary will now collaborate with his U.S. counterpart and build strategy to investigate why women and people of colour have poorer health outcomes. Thus, the renewed international standards will be introduced, which will perform tests on all races before the medical devices are sold.

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