Recognizing the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on certain communities, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) announced last week that it will fund an additional $29 million of grants for the NIH Community Engagement Alliance (CEAL) Against COVID-19 Disparities.
Supported by the American Rescue Plan, the funding will put $15 million toward 11 teams conducting research, outreach, testing, and treatment among communities of color. These 11 teams already benefited from $17 million in grants last year to better help residents at risk of severe COVID-19 cases. The remaining $14 million will fund 10 new research teams to extend community-engaged research in that area.
“The goal of this effort is to foster community-engagement research in communities which have been hit hardest by the pandemic,” Dr. Gary Gibbons, director, National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI), said. “The alliance is designed to meet people where they are with the help of trusted messengers, including family doctors, pastors, and community health workers, and to forge lasting partnerships to address health disparities.”
CEAL research groups coordinate educational efforts and seek to raise awareness to get people involved in COVID-19 testing, vaccine uptake, and clinical trials. At the same time, they research the barriers to prevention and treatment efforts to properly pursue ways to overcome them and guarantee equitable distribution of lifesaving resources for each community.
Such remedies could include mobile units in rural areas and pop-up vaccine clinics, as has been the case in various states. However, the solutions will be molded based on conversations with community leaders, trusted organizations, and experts familiar to their communities, including NIH Rapid Acceleration of Diagnostics (RADx) testing centers, state health departments, certified diabetes educators, and community health workers. Needs will be identified, and focus groups will be utilized to ascertain perceptions about vaccines and treatment.
“It’s one thing to have strong national messages about the science behind vaccines,” said Dr. Eliseo Pérez-Stable, director of the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities (NIMHD). “It’s another to have those messages delivered by local, trusted sources, who can ensure questions from their communities are honestly and clearly addressed.”
The new research teams being added this round include efforts at the: University of Pennsylvania, Johns Hopkins University, Washington University, Boston Medical Center, University of Puerto Rico Medical Sciences, University of Illinois, University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, University of Colorado–Denver, New York University School of Medicine and the University of New Mexico.