Britain called on Sunday (November 21) for international action on the issue of medical devices such as oximeters that work better on people with lighter skin, saying the disparities may have cost lives of ethnic minority patients during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Health secretary Sajid Javid said he had commissioned a review of the issue after learning that oximeters, which measure blood oxygen levels and are key to assessing Covid patients, give less accurate readings for patients with darker skin.
“This is systemic across the world. This is about a racial bias in some medical instruments. It’s unintentional but it exists and oximeters are a really good example of that,” Javid said during an interview with the BBC.
Asked whether people may have died of Covid-19 as a result of the flaw, Javid said: “I think possibly yes. I don’t have the full facts.”
He said the reason for the discrepancies was that a lot of medical devices, drugs, procedures and textbooks were put together in white majority countries.