The burden of heart disease among ethnic minorities in the UK is revealed in a new report compiled by Oxford University researchers for the British Heart Foundation. The figures suggest that while the South Asian population suffers the highest rates of heart disease, many could be missing out on access to some treatments.
The publication, Ethnic Differences in Cardiovascular Disease 2010, reports that 27% of deaths in men born in South Asia and living in the UK are from heart disease, compared with 18% in men born in the UK.
Lead author of the report, Dr Peter Scarborough from Oxford’s Department of Public Health, said: ‘The report confirms what was already generally known about ethnic differences in the burden of cardiovascular disease – that South Asians in the UK suffer more coronary heart disease than the white population. Diabetes is also more prevalent in the South Asian population, while the black population has a higher risk of stroke. The reasons for differences between ethnic groups living in the UK are not fully understood.
Dr Scarborough explained: ‘There are a number of different influences that could have an effect– genetic differences, socio-economic differences, and differences in factors that can raise the risk of heart disease, such as smoking, poor diet, physical inactivity and excessive alcohol consumption. This report shows that there are differences in risk factors within the ethnic groups in the UK, but it is difficult to assess how much these translate to the experience of heart disease.’
Despite the higher rates of heart disease among some ethnic minorities, white patients are twice as likely as South Asian patients to receive angioplasty or a heart bypass procedure. For every 100 hospital cases of heart disease in white people, there are around 10 such procedures, whereas for every 100 hospital cases for heart disease in South Asian people there are just four.
‘We also found that the South Asian and black population in the UK may not be receiving the same level of treatment for coronary heart disease (CHD) as the white population,’ said Dr Scarborough. ‘In England in 2007, the rate of angioplasty and bypass procedures conducted in white patients for CHD was twice as high as in South Asian patients and three times as high as in the black population.’
We need to have a better understanding of how much of the inequalities in access to angioplasty and bypass is due to differences in need for these procedures, and how much is due to genuine inequalities to access due to ethnicity
‘It is likely that some of the difference is due to lower levels of need for angioplasty or bypass in South Asian and black patients than in white patients,’ he added. ‘However, studies conducted in the early-2000s did show that, after adjusting for the need of procedure, South Asians still had a lower rate of treatment than white patients.
‘We need to have a better understanding of how much of the inequalities in access to angioplasty and bypass is due to differences in need for these procedures, and how much is due to genuine inequalities to access due to ethnicity. Then we can begin to investigate the reasons for this inequality and how we can tackle it,’ he said.
Qaim Zaidi, Ethnic Strategy Co-ordinator at the British Heart Foundation, said: ‘South Asians may face a number of barriers when trying to access vital treatments which could prolong their lives. They could encounter language difficulties, services may not be culturally appropriate or they may not be aware of the services that are available to them.’