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British MP praises contribution of Tamils in parliament debate on BAME coronavirus deaths

Thibyaa Mahasivam, Paediatric Intensive Care Nurse, London

Former British Environment Secretary Theresa Villiers praised the contribution of British Tamils during a debate in parliament that discussed inequalities and levels of deaths in Black, Asian and minority ethnic communities (BAME) due to the coronavirus outbreak in the UK.

Villiers told the House of Commons that it “has been deeply disturbing to watch and witness the impact of covid-19 on people from Black, Asian and minority ethnic communities” as she paid tribute to “all BAME workers on the frontline in the NHS, in social care, in transport, in council services, in retail and in the police, especially those in my Chipping Barnet constituency”.

“I believe this country has come a long way in recent decades towards tackling discrimination, combating racism and building a more cohesive society that is proud of its ​ethnic and cultural diversity,” she added.

Villiers concluded by quoting a British Tamil nurse, stating that “British Tamils are one of many minority communities represented in my constituency, and I have always been hugely impressed by the immense contribution they make to our national health service”.

The parliamentarian pointed to a quote that nurse Thibyaa Mahasivam gave to the Tamil Guardian, as part of the Tamil healthcare workers on the COVID-19 frontline series, where she said,

“Not one of us hesitated to step forward… Yes many of us complained, we had every right to—this was how we were able to unload our stress and worries. But when given the choice to relocate elsewhere the vast majority of us chose to put our lives on the line.”

“We owe our BAME doctors, nurses and frontline workers so much,” added Villiers. “We now need to ensure that gratitude delivers lasting social change that backs aspiration, hope and fairness and gives everyone in this great country, with all its diverse communities, a fair chance to get on and make a success of their lives.”

At least two British Tamil doctors have died so far, as they treated patients during the coronavirus pandemic.

Dr Vishna Rasiah, a consultant neonatologist in the Midlands, and Dr Anton Sebastianpillai, a consultant geriatrician at Kingston Hospital, both passed away in March as they worked on the frontlines of the National Health Service. 

Photograph: Dr Rasiah, Birmingham Women's and Children's Hospital

Photograph: Dr Sebastianpillai, Kingston Hospital

See more testimonies from Tamil healthcare workers on the COVID-19 frontline below.

Tamil healthcare workers on the COVID-19 frontline – April 24th

Tamil healthcare workers on the COVID-19 frontline – April 20th

Tamil healthcare workers on the COVID-19 frontline - April 16th

Tamil healthcare workers on the COVID-19 frontline - April 12th

Tamil healthcare workers on the COVID-19 frontline - April 8th

Tamil healthcare workers on the COVID-19 frontline - April 4th

Tamil healthcare workers around the world on the COVID-19 frontline

The debate in British parliament comes after a Public Health England (PHE) review concluded that “historic racism” may make BAME individuals less likely to seek care when needed and less likely to speak up when they have concerns about personal protective equipment (PPE).  The report, which was initially suppressed before being leaked and then finally published, acknowledged that racism may have played a role in higher BAME deaths and contained a range of recommendations. The British Medical Association has called for the report’s recommendations to be implemented, stating it was "critical" to carry out risk assessments in work places across the country.

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