The Chicago Center for HIV Elimination, located at the University of Chicago, was awarded $ 5 million over two years through the National Institutes of Health (NIH) RADx for the Poor. The money will support a COVID-19 testing project in eight rural and urban locations in the central U.S. to engage two disenfranchised populations: low-income Latinx individuals and people of any nationality who were previously involved in the criminal justice system but are not currently in custody.
As part of the Rapid Diagnostic Acceleration Initiative (RADx), the RADx Underprotected Population (RADx-UP) program will support research aimed at better understanding COVID-19 testing patterns among poor and vulnerable populations; strengthen data on differences in infection rates, disease progression and outcomes; and develop strategies to reduce differences in testing on COVID-19.
“There’s no point in devising a new medical treatment or test if no one is going to take it,” said project leader John Schneider, MD, MPH, professor of medicine and epidemiology at UChicago Medicine and director of the Chicago Center for HIV Elimination.
Both groups targeted by this project face some of the highest rates of infection and mortality from COVID-19 in the United States. The researchers plan to implement and evaluate a COVID-19 testing approach that combines an evidence-based social network (SNS) testing strategy with community-based public health messages.
“SNS is an evidence-based testing intervention that is widely used in multiple settings with marginalized individuals who facilitate the recruitment of their social contacts into testing and prevention services,” Schneider said. “SNS, which is most commonly used for HIV testing, effectively engages partners, family, friends, associates, and others who may be sensitive to COVID-19 by further building the capacity of community partners for COVID-19 testing and prevention services. SNS capitalizes on the individual as a reliable messenger and compensates for their time, which increases acceptance of testing. “
Researchers will also build community-led COVID-19 messages that correct misinformation and support individual beliefs and a trust building agency among network members. Their goal is to evaluate these approaches in terms of their effectiveness in increasing the testing rate for COVID-19 and improving the search for contacts within the community, which in turn improves the diagnosis and treatment of the virus in those populations with a weak population.
UChicago is one of 32 institutions to receive the NIH Award through the RADx-UP program to support projects designed to rapidly implement COVID-19 testing strategies in populations disproportionately affected by the pandemic. These groups include African Americans, American Indians / Alaska Natives, Latinos / Latins, Hawaiian Indigenous people, older adults, pregnant women, and those without a roof over their heads or in prison.
“It is critical that all Americans have access to rapid, accurate diagnosis for COVID-19, especially the under-supplied and vulnerable population that carries the greatest burden of the disease,” said NIH Director Francis S. Collins, MD. “The RADx-UP program will help us better understand and alleviate testing barriers for those most at risk and reduce the burden of this disease.”
The existing infrastructure and community partnerships at the HIV Elimination Center will allow for the rapid implementation of these approaches, with the network already in place to begin recruiting participants by the start of the new year.
“It’s really important to do this joint work and understand their concerns and needs if you want to embark on them and trust the resources you offer,” Schneider said. “The joint partnership between the academic partnership, research and engagement infrastructure we already have will allow us to quickly recruit, enroll and involve some of our most disadvantaged community members in testing and through this process accelerate all future COVID-19 public health prevention interventions.”
About the University of Chicago, Medicine and Biological Sciences
The Medical University of Chicago, whose history dates back to 1927, is one of the leading academic health systems in the country. It brings together the missions of the University of Chicago Medical Center, Pritzker School of Medicine, and the Department of Biological Sciences. Twelve Nobel Prize winners in physiology or medicine are affiliated with the University of Chicago School of Medicine. Its main campus in Hyde Park is home to the Care and Discovery Center, Bernard Mitchell Hospital, Comer Children’s Hospital and the Duchossois Center for Advanced Medicine. It also has outpatient facilities in Orland Park, South Loop and River East, as well as associations and partnerships that create a regional care network. UChicago Medicine offers a full range of special care services for adults and children through more than 40 institutes and centers, including a comprehensive cancer center designated by the NCI. Together with its Harlows-based Ingalls headquarters, UChicago Medicine has 1,296 approved beds, nearly 1,300 doctors, over 2,800 nurses and about 970 residents.
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