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International Health

August 27, 2020

Johns Hopkins Researchers Receive Grant to Study COVID-19 Health Inequities

Researchers from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health received funding from the Johnson & Johnson Foundation to investigate how the COVID-19 pandemic disproportionately affects low-income, minority, and disenfranchised communities in the U.S. and globally. This support will contribute to and help expand and enhance research under three ongoing Johns Hopkins projects focused on better understanding and responding to the health inequities exacerbated by this pandemic. With improved understanding of COVID-19-related health disparities and their underlying causes, public health professionals and policymakers can better serve those communities by directing appropriate resources to reduce the disproportionate burden of COVID-19 in Black, Latino, and Native American populations.

"This is an exciting opportunity to help target research attention to understand disparities in public health that significantly predate the COVID-19 pandemic. We've been able to bring together phenomenal researchers from departments across the Bloomberg School to attack this problem in a truly interdisciplinary way, taking advantage of existing research infrastructure to measure the extent of these inequities for policy and programmatic action," says Alain Labrique, PhD '07, MHS '99, a professor in the Department of International Health at the Bloomberg School, who is spearheading the grant coordination.

The three projects supported by the J&J Foundation funding are the Pandemic Pulse project, RICH LIFE (Reducing Inequities in Care of Hypertension: Lifestyle Improvement for Everyone) Project, and HIT (Health Intervention Tracker)-COVID

Pandemic Pulse—a COVID-19 mobile phone survey project that monitors the effect of the pandemic, with a focus on low-income and minority communities in the U.S. The additional funding will supplement grants from the Johns Hopkins University to add new national-level and state-specific surveys to the project, focused on identifying differentials in risk perception, behaviors, care seeking and other critical areas affected by COVID-19. Researchers will field representative phone surveys across select "archetypal" states and nationally to explore how race and socioeconomic status intersect with employment, education, access to healthcare, and childcare, as well as attitudes towards treatments, COVID-19 vaccines and information. Researchers will oversample Latino and African-American respondents so that statistical comparisons can be made between minority status and socioeconomic status. Anonymized survey results will be made public as they become available on the Pandemic Pulse website. These national and state-level Pandemic Pulse surveys focusing on disparities are led by Drs. Dustin Gibson, Smisha Agarwal and Alain Labrique. These pulse surveys complement a sister Pandemic Pulse project, supported by the School, led by Drs. Shruti Mehta and Sunil Solomon in the Department of Epidemiology, focusing on the adherence to non-pharmaceutical interventions over time.

RICH LIFE (Reducing Inequities in Care of Hypertension: Lifestyle Improvement for Everyone) Project—a cluster randomized trial dedicated to exploring new approaches to high blood pressure and heart disease management among ethnic minority, low-income, and rural populations. The J&J Foundation funding will allow the project to conduct an ancillary study assessing the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on households and individuals in these cohorts. Information will be gathered on a range of issues, including food insecurity, household socioeconomic status, and public benefit receipt and utilization prior to COVID-19 pandemic and a pandemic response. The participants in the study are over two-thirds African American and Latino and about half of the participants have a household income of less than $50,000. While there is extensive evidence demonstrating inequities in access to care and health outcomes, study findings will help assess the impact of the pandemic on these disparities. RICH LIFE is led by Lisa A. Cooper, MD, MPH, and Jill A. Marsteller, PhD, MPP. The RICH LIFE COVID-19 Ancillary Study is led by Rachel L. Johnson Thornton, MD, PhD. Primary support for the RICH LIFE Project is from the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute in collaboration with the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute.

HIT (Health Intervention Tracker)-COVID—a broad collaboration of Johns Hopkins faculty, students, and collaborators around the world to systematically document public health policy interventions being implemented in the U.S. and around the globe, when they occur, and how they are implemented during the COVID-19 pandemic. The J&J Foundation funding will help HIT-COVID scale up and continue work initially supported through a massive volunteer effort across JHU, Harvard University, and Boston University with grants from the Johns Hopkins University. Analyses led by Dr. David Peters, Dr. Qinfeng Li and Alex Zapf will strive to understand drivers of policy responsiveness to the epidemic, assess the relative impact of different public health policy interventions on COVID-19 incidence and rate of growth, and provide timely and evidence-informed advice to decision-makers and the public about interventions during the pandemic. HIT-COVID is led by Andrew Azman, Qulu Zheng, Elizabeth Lee and Forrest Jones together with colleagues from Harvard and Boston University.