NIH funding to help researchers scale up COVID-19 testing in underserved communities

October 7, 2020 – A collaborative team from Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, the Kraft Center for Community Health at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH), and the Massachusetts League of Community Health Centers will work together to scale up COVID-19 testing in communities with underserved and/or vulnerable populations in Massachusetts.

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) awarded the team $4.6 million in funding over two years as part of its Rapid Acceleration of Diagnostics (RADx) initiative. The initiative is focused on bolstering COVID-19 testing for African Americans, American Indians/Alaskan Natives, Latinos/Latinas, Native Hawaiians, older adults, pregnant women, those who are experiencing homelessness, and the formerly incarcerated.

The team is co-led by Karen Emmons, professor of social and behavioral sciences at Harvard Chan School and faculty director of the Harvard Catalyst Community Engagement Program; Elsie Taveras, executive director of the Kraft Center for Community Health and Chief of the Division of General Academic Pediatrics at Massachusetts General Hospital and professor of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School and professor in the Department of Nutrition at Harvard Chan School; and Susan Dragon-Hart, vice president of clinical health affairs at the Massachusetts League of Community Health Centers.

The program will span more than half a dozen community health centers in Massachusetts, including Brockton Neighborhood Health Center, Lynn Community Health Center, Family Health Center of Worcester, DotHouse Health, Caring Health Center and BeHealthy ACO, and Mass General Hospital Community Health Associates in Chelsea, Charlestown, Everett and Revere.

The Harvard Chan and Harvard Catalyst teams will provide scientific and administrative leadership and support the development of an ethical and equity framework to guide the research efforts. MGH will lead the development and implementation of the testing strategies, and also provide support to community health centers. Mass League will provide support to the participating community health centers and coordinate the testing strategy with state-wide efforts.

“It is critical that all Americans have access to rapid, accurate diagnostics for COVID-19, especially underserved and vulnerable populations who are bearing the brunt of this disease,” NIH Director Francis Collins said in a statement announcing the program. “The RADx-UP program will help us better understand and alleviate the barriers to testing for those most vulnerable and reduce the burden of this disease.”

Chris Sweeney

Photo: Pennsylvania Department of Health Bureau