P.rof Kevin Fenton, Regional Director of Public Health England in London, has lived in many places over the past fifty years. Born in Glasgow in 1966, he went to school and university in Jamaica and worked for 10 years in the US health service. But it’s Britain where he earned his doctorate that he calls home.
He was particularly touched and humiliated to be named the second most influential black Briton on this year’s Powerlist, behind Formula 1 driver Lewis Hamilton, followed by artist grime Stormzy, actor and screenwriter Michael Coel, British Vogue editor-in-chief Edward Enninful OBE and Director General and Secretary General of the Royal College of Nursing, Dame Donna Kinnair.
This year’s list honored the people who spoke the truth to power during the heightened debate about racial injustice, its publisher Powerful Media said.
“It’s nice to be recognizable, but more importantly, it’s nice to be represented in this group because not only athletes or people are cultural icons. We have people in healthcare, we have people from different backgrounds and I think this shows the rich diversity of black leaders in our society, ”said Fenton.
He has been recognized for his work in fighting the coronavirus pandemic, especially its devastating impact on black, Asian and ethnic minority (BAME) communities. Fenton is the author of two reports on Covid-19 and inequality, the second of which included evidence from around 4,000 people, including UK BAME groups and scientists. “Someone told me in one of our interviews,” You are one of the first people in the government to ask why and hear our stories, “he said.
The report found that the racism and discrimination faced by people of color contributed to the high death rate caused by Covid-19 in these communities.
“The reports appeared at the same time as the Black Lives Matter movement … So I think the conversations were real, authentic and gave us the opportunity to say that there are economic differences, differences in living conditions, but also people of color are dealing with other issues including the risks that affect their performance and we need to be honest about that, ”said Fenton.
Fenton was not surprised by the evidence pointing to a greater likelihood of contracting coronavirus in degraded areas. “Having worked with infectious diseases for 25 years, I knew very well that these diseases and infections are not distributed randomly in the population. They are in focus – especially those who have poor access to services, those who are socially and economically disadvantaged or who are unable to take full advantage of some of the preventive measures we may have, ”he said.
Fenton added: “We did not appreciate that inequalities would be so severe and so quickly.” During the first wave of the pandemic, a disproportionate number of ethnic minority people who were key workers and consultants died from the virus. “So you engaged both ends of the economic spectrum.”
This is not the first pandemic Fenton has dealt with. While in the USA, he led the Act Against Aids initiative together with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in 2004-2008. At the time, the main focus was on developing countries, but Fenton pointed out that there was a national AIDS epidemic in the United States, disproportionately affecting the African-American community, which also needed attention.
Although the links between inequality, race, and health were well established in the United States at the time, Fenton did pioneering work by engaging with the black community to raise awareness and improve access to health care.
“[The initiative] they really brought the pillars of the African American community together to say, ‘listen, there is a crisis in our midst and now we must adopt a banner that will help us talk about HIV, address the stigma, improve diagnosis and care linkages, and improve outcomes. This has meant working with historically black colleges, religious institutions, and local businesses to develop programs with and by black Americans.
After ten years in the US, he could no longer ignore the call to return to London. “The longer I was in the US, the more I realized that my values, my self-esteem, what I wanted to achieve, would return here in London,” he said.
Fenton was particularly interested in bringing a new mindset and energy from the United States to Britain. He waited for a suitable opportunity, and this happened with the development of a new public health authority, PHE. He has been associated with the organization since 2012.
His current focus is on protecting vulnerable communities during the Second Wave and preparing for a vaccine when it becomes available. He is especially keen to work with local communities to build trust and ensure they take full advantage of it when it becomes available.
He describes the inclusion of health professionals on the power list as a huge triumph in a particularly difficult year.
His parents, like his friends, are especially proud. “I’m sure they need to think,“ How can this be the same Kevin we had on our lap a few years ago? “