Prof Kevin Fenton, Public Health England’s Regional Manager for London, has lived in many places over the past five decades. Born in Glasgow in 1966, he attended school and university in Jamaica and worked in public health in the United States for 10 years. But it’s Britain, where he got his doctorate, that he calls home.
He was particularly moved and humbled to be named the second most influential black Briton in this year’s Powerlist, behind Formula 1 driver Lewis Hamilton, followed by grime artist Stormzy, actor and screenwriter Michaela Coel, editor-in-chief of British Vogue, Edward Enninful OBE , and the Executive Director and Secretary General of the Royal College of Nursing, Dame Donna Kinnair.
This year’s list honored people who have spoken the truth to power in a time of growing debate about racial error, said the list’s publisher, Powerful Media.
“It’s nice to be recognized, but more importantly, it’s nice to be represented in this group because it’s not just athletes or people who are cultural icons. We have people in health care, we have people from other walks of life, and I think that shows the rich diversity of black leadership in our society, says Fenton.
He was recognized for his work in tackling the coronavirus pandemic, and in particular its devastating impact on black, Asian and minority ethnic groups (BAME). Fenton has authored two reports on Covid-19 and inequality, the second of which contained evidence from around 4,000 people, including Britain’s BAME groups and academics. “Someone said to me in one of our interviews: ‘You are one of the first people from the government to ask us why and listen to our stories,'” he said.
The report concluded that racism and discrimination against people of color contributed to the high death toll from Covid-19 in these communities.
“The reports came out at the same time as the Black Lives Matter movement … So I think the conversations were real, they were genuine and it gave us a way to say that there are economic differences, there are differences in living conditions, but also people in color. tackles other issues, including risks that affect their results and we must be honest about that as well, says Fenton.
Fenton was not surprised by the evidence showing that deprived areas were more likely to be affected by the coronavirus. “After working with infectious diseases for 25 years, I knew very well that these diseases and infections are not randomly distributed in the population. They are concentrated – especially among those who have poor access to services, those who are socially and economically disadvantaged, or those who cannot take full advantage of some of the preventive measures we may have, he says.
Fenton added: “What we did not appreciate was that inequality would have been so sharp, so fast.” During the first wave of the pandemic, a disproportionately large number of people with minority ethnic backgrounds who were key workers and consultants of the virus died. “So you had both ends of the economic spectrum involved.”
This is not the first pandemic Fenton has dealt with. While in the United States, he led the Act Against AIDS initiative with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, between 2004 and 2008. At the time, the focus was largely on developing countries, but Fenton pointed out that the United States had a domestic AIDS epidemic. , which disproportionately affects African American society, which also needed attention.
While the links between inequality, race and health were well established in the United States at the time, Fenton did pioneering work with the black community to raise awareness and improve access to care.
“[The initiative] really gathered the pillars of African American communities to say, ‘listen, there’s a crisis in the middle sometimes and we now need you to put on the banner to help us talk about HIV, to deal with stigma, to improve the diagnosis and the link to care and to improve results. “” This meant working with historically black colleges, religious institutions and local companies to develop programs with and by black Americans.
After a decade in the United States, he could no longer ignore the call to return to London. “The longer I was in the United States, the more I realized that my values, my self-esteem, what I wanted to achieve would come back here in London,” he said.
Fenton was particularly anxious to bring back some new thinking and energy from the United States to Britain. He was waiting for the right opportunity and that came with the development of a new public health organization, PHE. He has been working at the body since 2012.
His focus is now on protecting vulnerable communities during the second wave and preparing for the rollout of the vaccine, when one becomes available. He is particularly keen to work with local communities to build trust and ensure that they make full use of it when it becomes available.
He describes the inclusion of healthcare staff in the power list as a huge triumph during a particularly difficult year.
In addition to his colleagues, his parents are especially proud. “I’m sure they must be thinking, ‘How can it be the same Kevin we had on our knees a few years ago? “”