At the age of 23, actor David Harewood had a psychotic breakdown, a condition he later discovered was far more likely to affect black men. After the shocking news broke that black, Asian and minority ethnic patients were dying in disproportionate numbers from Covid-19, David felt compelled to discover the reasons why.
David starts his journey in Brent, north west London. During the first wave of the pandemic, the borough had the highest Covid-19 mortality rate in the country. It is also one of the UK's most diverse areas, where nearly 65 per cent of the local population are black, Asian or from other minority ethnic groups.
He visits Dr Tariq Husain, head of the Intensive Care Unit at the nearby Northwick Park Hospital, who describes the tidal wave of cases that overwhelmed their capacity, five times more than the usual rates of admissions, and the fact that people from minority communities seemed to be the hardest hit.
Rosamund Adoo-Kissi-Debrah lost her nine-year-old daughter Ella in 2013 to a fatal asthma attack. After discovering that Ella’s most severe attacks coincided with local spikes in pollution, she began campaigning to get air pollution listed as a cause of her daughter’s death. In a landmark ruling in December 2020, the coroner found in her favour, the first time ever that air quality has been acknowledged as a cause of death in the UK.
David is gradually moving to the unhappy conclusion that systemic racism, be it conscious or unconscious, could be contributing to poorer health outcomes. But a radical theory developed by American professor Arline Geronimus suggests that living with racism can actually have a physiological impact on the body, meaning that black patients age faster and suffer from poor health much earlier - a process she calls 'weathering'. It is a shocking revelation.
He ends his journey frustrated but with some hope. The stark inequalities exposed by Covid-19 and the Black Lives Matter movement have come together at a pivotal time, one he believes can be a moment of change.