Only a get fit bid will prevent COVID – say South Asian campaigners

Date published: 29 July 2020

A group of inspirational Bengali charity workers from Oldham has called on their own community to get into shape to face the Coronavirus – as a healthy body may be their best defence against terrible illness or death.

Volunteers who run fitness classes for Muslim women, a Royton restaurant who have spent lockdown running around serving food to the vulnerable, and community leader Muzahid Khan have joined forces to encourage people to mix charity with being healthy – with evidence emerging that the fitter you are, the less likely you are to perish during the pandemic.

“We cannot ignore the fact that Oldham has had to go into special measures to prevent further spread of the pandemic or that all the evidence points to it being more virulent within the BAME community” said Muz Khan, one of the coordinators of the Asian Business Leaders Awards. 

“At this stage, until a vaccine is developed, the most effective way of staying well is to exercise more and eat nutritional food.

"Actually, that has always been the recipe for a longer life, but unfortunately we see far too many outlets selling non-nutritional food in our neighbourhoods and people from South Asian extract are simply not exercising enough.”

That was a charge that could have been levelled at Mohammed Afruz Miah – who last year developed cataracts and had breathing problems in his late 40’s.

But what his body was telling him spurred him into losing four stones and setting up the Just Breathe programme, which runs exercise classes, especially for women. Their charitable work, collecting for foodbanks, washing cars to raise cash for children in Yemen and of course, organising a 24-hour marathon run, walk, and cycle which raised over £16,000, is enough to leave anyone breathless.

Poor diet has been blamed for a high prevalence of Type Two Diabetes in areas of Oldham. Royton restaurant Khau Ghalli is serving quality Bombay street food at affordable prices. Their staff spent lockdown disseminating dishes to vulnerable members of the community plus NHS staff at the Royal Oldham Hospital.

Meanwhile, Mahi Massum has been like a one-man volunteering machine, cooking, packing, and delivering nourishing food for vulnerable isolated people, from 6am to 11pm - every day!

Oldham’s Bengali community even has its own mountaineer in the shape of Akke Rahman, who has just scaled Kilimanjaro and is about to tackle Mount Blanc in a bid to raise resources for schools and encourage people to get fit.

“Whilst the links between COVID-19 and the BAME community remain a mystery, we have to acknowledge that we have a major health problem and we must do something about it” said Muz Khan.

"Certainly more resources could be made available for appropriate fitness programmes, takeaways need to be sanctioned if they try and set up near schools and education campaigns have to resonate better. But the fact remains, we have a duty to look after our health and that of others.”

Mohammed Afruz Miah concluded: “The prophet Mohammed PBUH said that if our belly was bigger than our chest, then we would not enter paradise. That should be an inspiration to us to just breathe and get fit.” 

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