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Georgia State receives $6.7 million grant for research center in health disparities

Monday, October 4, 2010 – Jeremy Craig, University Relations

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The National Institutes of Health has awarded Georgia State University with a five-year grant to start a new Center for Excellence in Health Disparities Research, which will investigate health disparity issues in Atlanta’s urban environment.

The $6.7 million grant is funded through the NIH’s National Center for Minority Health and Health Disparities. The center will include major research topics, as well as outreach programs.

The new center will be based in the Institute of Public Health of the College of Health and Human Sciences, and will include researchers from public health, social work, the Center for Healthy Development and criminal justice in the college, and faculty from the departments of African-American studies, sociology, and psychology in the College of Arts and Sciences.

Health disparities in urban areas lead to poor health, which is caused by a confluence of factors, including poverty, discrimination, unemployment, lack of access to care and the manmade environment, said Michael Eriksen, director of the Institute of Public Health.

“These factors conspire to put communities at a disadvantage in terms of health and well-being,” Eriksen said. “What we hope to do with this new, larger center of excellence is to better understand the socioeconomic forces that contribute to ill health in communities that constitute much of urban Atlanta, and the urban United States.”

Three major research areas include:

    • Investigating variations in health among disadvantaged neighborhoods, especially in the wake of Atlanta’s relocation of residents traditional public housing, undertaken by Erin Ruel, assistant professor of sociology

    • Examining the role of religion and churches in reducing drug use and the transmission of HIV, researched by professor Richard Rothenberg of the Institute of Public Health

    • Testing the use of a way to reduce child maltreatment, called the SafeCare Model from the Center for Healthy Development, by using computers; researched by associate professor Shannon Self-Brown of the center.

The university, through its Partnership for Urban Health Research, has been working in the field for several years, and faculty have built relationships with local neighborhoods, especially relationships with the communities of Neighborhood Planning Unit-V, located near Turner Field.

The new center will allow these relationships to continue and help to benefit the community over the long term, Eriksen said.

“It all starts with developing relationships with the community,” he said. “The problem historically has been that universities will get funding for a certain project, go into the community and do the project, and then the community never hears from them again. There needs to be a trusting and sustained relationship, which we’ve established.”

The center’s community work will also involve partnerships with local non-profit organizations, churches and other faith-based organizations, housing organizations and others to collect data, analyze patterns and to perform interventions, especially in the case with the computer-assisted SafeCare project to see if problems can be prevented in the future, Eriksen said.

The grant will also fund several core areas for infrastructure, including administration, research and training for GSU students, faculty and the community, as well as a community outreach area.

Eriksen also said that the center will serve as a repository of data for health and safety in the metro Atlanta area, which researchers plan to use in conjunction with the new visualization wall at the Parker H. Petit Science Center. The wall consists of a large, 200-million pixel array of computer screens, filling up a room to allow researchers to view and analyze volumes of visual information.