‘We must be sincere’: the PHE skilled shining gentle on Covid and inequality


Prof Kevin Fenton, Public Well being England’s regional director for London, has lived in plenty of locations over the previous 5 many years. Born in Glasgow in 1966, he went to high school and college in Jamaica, and labored in public well being within the US for 10 years. However it’s the UK, the place he gained his PhD, that he calls house.

He was significantly moved and humbled to be named the second most influential black Briton on this 12 months’s Powerlist, behind the Method One driver Lewis Hamilton, and adopted by the grime artist Stormzy, the actor and screenwriter Michaela Coel, the editor-in-chief of British Vogue, Edward Enninful OBE, and the chief govt and basic secretary of the Royal Faculty of Nursing, Dame Donna Kinnair.

This 12 months’s listing honoured individuals who have spoken fact to energy at a time of elevated debate about racial injustice, the listing’s writer, Highly effective Media, mentioned.

“It’s good to be recognised, however extra importantly, it’s good to be represented on this group as a result of it’s not simply sports activities folks or people who find themselves cultural icons. Now we have folks within the well being service, we’ve got folks from different walks of life, and I feel that exhibits the wealthy range of black management inside our society,” Fenton mentioned.

He was recognised for his work in tackling the coronavirus pandemic, and significantly its devastating influence on black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) communities. Fenton has authored two reviews on Covid-19 and inequality, the second of which included proof from about 4,000 folks, together with Britain’s BAME teams and lecturers. “Someone mentioned to me in certainly one of our interviews: ‘You’re one of many first folks from authorities to ask us why and to take heed to our tales’,” he mentioned.

The report concluded that racism and discrimination suffered by folks of color contributed to the excessive demise charges from Covid-19 in these communities.

“The reviews got here out similtaneously the Black Lives Matter motion … So I feel the conversations have been actual, they have been genuine and it supplied us with a strategy to say there are financial disparities, there are disparities in residing situations, but additionally folks of color are tackling different points, together with dangers which affect their outcomes and we must be sincere about that as effectively,” Fenton mentioned.

Fenton was not stunned by the proof that confirmed disadvantaged areas have been extra more likely to be affected by the coronavirus. “Having labored in infectious ailments for 25 years, I knew very effectively that these ailments and infections should not randomly distributed within the inhabitants. They discover themselves concentrated – particularly in those that have poor entry to providers, those that are socially and economically deprived, or these not in a position to take full benefit of a number of the preventive measures that we could have,” he mentioned.

Fenton added: “What we didn’t respect was that the inequalities would have been so stark, so rapidly.” Through the first wave of the pandemic, a disproportionate variety of folks from minority ethnic background who have been key staff and consultants died from the virus. “So that you had each ends of the financial spectrum being concerned.”

This isn’t the primary pandemic Fenton has handled. Whereas within the US, he led the Act Towards Aids initiative with the Facilities for Illness Management and Prevention, between 2004 to 2008. On the time the main target was largely on growing nations, however Fenton identified that the US had a home epidemic of Aids, disproportionately impacting the African American group, which additionally wanted consideration.

Whereas the hyperlinks between inequalities, race and well being have been well-established within the US on the time, Fenton did pioneering work in partaking with the black group to lift consciousness and enhance entry to healthcare.

“[The initiative] actually introduced collectively the pillars of African American communities to say, ‘hear, there’s a disaster in our midst and we want now so that you can tackle the banner to assist us to speak about HIV, to deal with stigma, to enhance analysis and linkage to care, and to enhance outcomes.’” This meant working with traditionally black faculties, spiritual establishments and native companies to develop programmes with and by black People.

After a decade within the US, he might now not ignore the decision to return to London. “The longer I used to be within the US, the extra I realised that my values, my sense of self, what I wished to perform, was going to be again right here in London,” he mentioned.

Fenton was significantly eager to carry again some new considering and power from the US to the UK. He waited for the precise alternative and that got here with the event of a brand new public well being physique, PHE. He has been working on the physique since 2012.

His focus now could be on defending susceptible communities throughout the second wave and getting ready for the roll-out of vaccine, when one turns into obtainable. He’s significantly eager to work with native communities to construct up belief and guarantee they take full benefit of it when it turns into obtainable.

He describes the inclusion of healthcare staff within the energy listing as an enormous triumph in a very troublesome 12 months.

In addition to his colleagues, his mother and father are particularly proud. “I’m positive they have to suppose, ‘How can this be the identical Kevin we had on our knees just a few years in the past?’”

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