Sunday Mirror columnist Saira Khan exposes the scandal of health devices that could be deadly if your skin is darker because they were designed for white people
Then we need medical treatment, we expect that any equipment used is going to work. But, shockingly, it has recently been discovered that some gadgets are less effective on people with darker skins.
For example, a pulse oximeter – a device that is put on the tip of the finger to measure oxygen levels – doesn’t work well on dark skins.
That’s because of how light is absorbed by the tissue in the finger. Dark skin absorbs more light, so the pulse oximeter will give a different result to that of a person who has light skin.
I’ve been working on a campaign with a global medical technology company, Masimo, to warn ethnic minorities that many such devices on the market have only been tested on white skins.
They can therefore give incorrect results – which can then endanger health.
Healthcare Secretary Sajid Javid has ordered a review into racial bias
I’m furious that a device that’s used by medics on a daily basis for one of the most basic health checks is fundamentally racist.
Health Secretary Sajid Javid has begun a review into racial bias in medical equipment amid fears that thousands of ethnic minority patients died of Covid who should have survived.
Research has shown that patients most at risk of becoming very unwell from Covid are best identified by oxygen levels. Javid wrote: “I’m determined to do whatever it takes so that in this country, your health and your experience of health and care isn’t dictated by where you live or where you come from… I want to fix these disparities wherever I find them.”
Never in my wildest dreams did I think that the color of my skin would affect me and people of my heritage in such a negative way when it came to health.
I took it for granted that all medical equipment would be fine for us to use because, in the research and development of the product, tests would have been carried out on a group that included people of color.
As a founder of a skincare brand myself, I test my products on all skin types. I know that brown and black skin can be a lot drier, so they need oil-based products in different quantities for Caucasian skin.
The reason that this issue resonates with me so strongly is that my mum fits the key demographic whose life could have been put in danger if I had not been vigilant.
She is recovering from a prolapse operation and is on strong opioids. Measuring her blood oxygen is vital, as people on strong opioids have a real danger of their oxygen levels dropping, which can be fatal.
So I had to get her an oximeter.
If I hadn’t been working with Masimo, I might have picked any oximeter and assumed it would work on her just as well as it would on my 85-year-old white mother-in-law. Not so.
I want to share this information with people of colour so that they can ensure their lives are no longer put at risk.