CDC Office of Minority Health and Health Equity Prepares ‘Disease Detectives’ to Address Racism and Health

speaker at EIS gathering

Rochelle Walensky, MD, MPH, director of CDC and administrator of the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR), declared racism as a public health threat in April 2021. When doing so she emphasized, “Confronting the impact of racism will not be easy…I know that we can do this if we work together. I certainly hope you will lean in and join me.”

Recognizing the importance of leaning into institutional level change to confront the impact of racism on health, the leadership teams of the Epidemic Intelligence Service (EIS) and Laboratory Leadership Service (LLS) programs approached the Office of Minority Health and Health Equity (OMHHE) to explore the idea of developing opportunities for EIS and LLS Officers to learn about research and methods considerations relevant to the concepts of racism and health, minority health, and health equity science.

OMHHE’s Dr. Rashid Njai, an EIS alum, convened a small team of epidemiologists, health scientists, and behavioral scientists, many of whom were also EIS alum, to create an evidence-based course specifically designed for EIS and LLS Officers to explore both how racism impacts health and the roles public health researchers, practitioners, and leaders should play in advancing science that acknowledges the connection between the two. The programs included the inaugural course as part of their annual rigorous summer training course for first year Officers, marking the first time this topic was included in the foundational training for EIS and LLS Officers.

The initial training included a hands-on exercise where students were assigned a simple task but given varying levels of privilege and information as an example of how various forms of racism function in society. Additional topics included an exploration of the types of racism – interpersonal, internalized, and systemic/institutionalized – and how each effects health and reflections from presenters about their own personal and familial experiences with racism. The course concluded with a call to action for Officers to consider and recognize the importance of racism and health equity when approaching their work.

Established in 1951, EIS is a highly competitive, 2-year post-graduate fellowship in applied epidemiology. As CDC’s on-call disease detectives, EIS officers are among the agency’s first-line rapid responders and represent the future of public health leaders. CDC launched LLS in 2015 to develop future public health laboratory leaders and is closely aligned with EIS to promote interdisciplinary training, applied learning, and collaboration between laboratory scientists and epidemiologists.

The inaugural Racism and Health course was well received and the EIS and LLS programs asked the team to deliver the same training to the 2nd year Officers and to develop a second training specifically focused on analytic examples and methods to help Officers begin to employ appropriate methods when designing studies and collecting, analyzing, interpreting, and presenting data.

Dr. Njai hopes this is just the beginning of the collaboration between EIS, LLS, and OMHHE, “Integrating the impact of racism on health as a foundational element of the science EIS and LLS Officers, and other CDC fellows, conduct both during their training fellowships and in their future careers as public health scientists and leaders is key to helping CDC advance health equity.”

The 2021 Williams-Hutchins Health Equity Award Winners from the CDC Undergraduate Public Health Scholars (CUPS) Program

CDC’s Office of Minority Health and Health Equity (OMHHE) supports internship opportunities for students to gain meaningful experiences in public health settings. The CDC Undergraduate Public Health Scholars (CUPS) Program was established in 2011 to prepare a diverse cohort of future public health professionals to address health disparities and advance health equity. The Williams-Hutchins Health Equity Award, established in 2018, recognizes exceptional CUPS Program student projects that advance health disparity science and minority health. The award honors Walter Williams, MD, MPH, FACPM and Sonja S. Hutchins, MD, MPH, DrPH, FACM, both of whom advanced health equity throughout their outstanding public health careers. The award recipients are recognized for their exceptional projects and contributions to the field. The 2021 award recipients showcase a diverse array of public health focus areas, priority populations, and approaches, all of which contribute to the effort to reduce health disparities and accelerate progress toward health equity. Explore the project briefs below and visit 2021 Williams-Hutchins Award Recipients for more information on the recipients and their projects.

Jaleel Poole

Jaleel Poole was awarded first place from Columbia University’s Summer Public Health Scholars Program, for his project, “Racial Disparities in Cardiovascular Diseases Among Black Women in Central Harlem Due to Food Insecurity.” Jaleel’s research focused on racial disparities in heart disease mortality among Black women with low incomes in East Harlem, and he interned with the Advance and Earn Culinary Training Program at the Stanley M. Isaacs Neighborhood Center. During his internship, he gathered data and made data-driven recommendations to improve the monitoring and evaluation processes. Isabel Cordova and Chidilim Menakaya were selected as honorable mentions for the award.

Aubrianna Wilson

Aubrianna Wilson was awarded first place from the Kennedy Krieger Institute’s Maternal and Child Health Careers/Research Initiatives for Student Enhancement – Undergraduate Program, for her project “Demographic Characteristics of Autistic Children With and Without Intellectual Disability.” Aubrianna’s project focused on analyzing whether the demographic characteristics of autistic children with intellectual disability and without intellectual disability differ in race/ethnicity, parental education, parental socioeconomic status, and the researchers’ ability to obtain a magnetic resonance imaging scan. Aubrianna interned at the UC Davis Health MIND Institute. Joshua Woods and Kate Vogel were selected as honorable mentions for the award.

Jackie Luong

Jackie Luong was awarded first place from Morehouse College’s Project Imhotep, for her project “Racial/Ethnic Differences in HIV Diagnoses in Ending the HIV Epidemic in the US Phase I Jurisdictions, 2017 & 2019.” Jackie’s project focused on examining the racial/ethnic differences in the number of new HIV diagnoses within jurisdictions where HIV incidence is high. Jackie interned at CDC’s National Center for HIV, Viral Hepatitis, STD and TB Prevention. Sydney Fisher and Amber Agee were selected as honorable mentions for the award.

Evan Tansimore

Evan Tansimore was awarded first place from the University of Michigan School of Public Health’s Future of Public Health Leaders Program, for his project, “Decreasing the Spread of COVID-19.” Evan interned as a communicable disease case investigator at the Wayne County Health Department in Michigan, where he helped track the spread of COVID-19. Evan interviewed clients who had tested positive for COVID-19, shared information and resources with them, and used the Michigan Disease Surveillance System. Natalie Akins and Mónica Ortiz Vázquez were selected as honorable mentions.

Melina Rodriguez

Melina Rodriguez was awarded first place from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA)’s UCLA Public Health Scholars Training Program, for her project “The Imprisonment Epidemic: Addressing the Prison Industrial Complex Through a Public Health Lens.” Melina collaborated with others to facilitate a group discussion on mass incarceration and public health, presented on the topic, co-hosted a panel of professionals engaged in criminal justice reform, and shared public health strategies to address disproportionate rates of incarceration. Melina interned at VenaVer Events, where she engaged with community members and partners to decrease food insecurity. Camryn Williams and Marie Nzeyimana were selected as honorable mentions for the award.

OMHHE’s COVID-19 Supplemental Award to Reduce COVID-19-Related Health Disparities

collage of covid-19 supplemental awards

As we celebrate National Minority Health Month in April, it is important to honor the efforts of OMHHE award recipients taking meaningful actions to reduce COVID-19 related disparities in communities of color.  CDC’s cooperative agreement recipients continue to build the capacity of local and national organizations and institutions serving communities of color to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic and future health issues. The impact of OMHHE’s supplemental award recipients’ efforts span 22 states, Washington D.C., and territories of Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

The three recipients include the Asian and Pacific Islander American Health Forumexternal icon external icon(APIAHF)external icon, CDC Foundationexternal icon, and PROCEED, Inc.’s National Center for Training, Support and Technical Assistance (NCTSTA)external icon. In their second year of funding, these recipients will assist 11 returning community-based organizations (CBOs) and 17 new CBO partners with assessing community needs and implementing and evaluating evidence-based plans to increase COVID-19 mitigation strategies. At the core of their efforts will be community engagement to inform culturally responsive interventions and communication products in more than 20 languages. Recipients currently support the development and implementation of rapid needs assessments of their partners’ communities to guide their intervention strategies. Potential topics of focus for year two of this initiative include mental health, parental hesitancy towards the COVID-19 vaccine for children, and general hesitancy towards the COVID-19 vaccine and booster.

APIAHF and their community partners are addressing COVID-19 misinformation in the Asian American and Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander (AA and NH/PI) communities in the metropolitan areas of Houston, TX and New York City, NY and the states of California, Hawaii, and Washington. The seven returning partners include Asian Pacific Islander American Public Affairsexternal icon, Association of Asian Pacific Community Health Organizationsexternal icon, Coalition for Asian Americans Children and Familiesexternal icon, NYU Center for the Study of Asian American Healthexternal icon, Pacific Islander Community Association of Washingtonexternal icon, Papa Ola Lokahiexternal icon/NH&PI Hawaii COVID 3R Teamexternal icon, and SEARACexternal icon. New partners include: Buddhist Tzu Chi Medical Foundationexternal icon, National Asian Pacific American Bar Association (NAPABA)external icon, NICOS Chinese Health Coalition (NICOS)external icon, Pacific Islander Health Partnershipexternal icon (PIHP)/Southern California Pacific Islander COVID-19 Response Teamexternal icon, and Philippine Nurses Association of America Foundation (PNAAF)external icon. APIAHF capacity building assistance includes facilitating collaborations between partners working with similar communities or developing similar products; helping disseminate and boost partner products through the National AA and NH/PI Health Response Partnershipexternal icon website and social media channels; and hosting virtual town halls and webinars, including COVID-19 community conversations.

CDC Foundation’s Southern Allianceexternal icon will engage eight CBOs in eight southern states (Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, Tennessee, and Texas) and Washington D.C. The Southern Alliance will expand relationships fostered with academic institutions during year one to support new CBO partnerships and programs to address COVID-19 health inequities in African American and non-Hispanic Black communities across the southern United States. The eight new Southern Alliance partners include: A Vision 4 Hopeexternal icon, Delta Health Allianceexternal icon, Destination Tomorrowexternal icon, Helping Hands Resource Groupexternal icon, Institute for the Advancement of Minority Healthexternal icon, Men with Vision, Montgomery Area Community Wellness Coalitionexternal icon, Renaissance Connection.external icon CDC Foundation’s capacity-building assistance will support COVID-19 vaccination education and navigation; access to resources for mental health and social stressors associated with COVID-19; building and sustaining community rapport; providing training to lay community to advance doula and community health worker access and knowledge; and promoting service delivery projects.  CDC Foundation’s efforts aim to create resiliency in African American/Black communities disproportionately impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, including LGBTQ+, pregnant people, students, individuals with pre-existing health conditions, and people living in rural communities or with limited access to healthcare.

PROCEED, Inc. has engaged Latino/Latinx-serving community-based organizations in a collective effort, PODER en SALUD (Power in Health)external icon, to address the COVID-19 pandemic by providing locally tailored and culturally responsive information in English, Spanish, and other indigenous languages such as Mixteco. PODER en SALUD’s four returning partners (Farmworker Justiceexternal icon, El Centroexternal icon, Latino Commission on AIDS (LCAO)external icon, and Progreso Latinoexternal icon) serve New York City, NY and the states of Rhode Island, Kansas, Florida, Arizona, California, and Oregon.  PODER en SALUD’s four new partners (National Youth Leadership Council (NYLC)external icon, Access to Racial and Cultural Health (ARCH) Instituteexternal icon, Migrant Health Center Western Region, Incexternal icon., Puerto Rico Community Network for Clinical Services, Research and Health Advancement (PR CONCRA))external icon  expand their reach to include Washington D.C., the states of Illinois, Indiana, Maryland, Georgia, Texas, Minnesota, Missouri, New Mexico, and Washington, and two territories: Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Populations of focus include Latino/Latinx youth, young adults, women, adults with disabilities, older adults, farmworkers and their families, faith-based communities, and people with lower income who are uninsured and/or underserved. PROCEED, Inc. is expanding its capacity building assistance activities offered to partners through peer-to-peer engagement opportunities, a partner toolkit, and Training of Trainers for Promotores. PROCEED, Inc. is also continuing social media COVID-19 outreach efforts, including piloting a social media influencer campaign that engages Latino/Latinx influencers to promote and develop content that will motivate communities to stay safe, get vaccinated, and access resources.

Learn more about the progress of these three initiatives by following their project websites: APIAHF’s National AA and NH/PI Health Response Partnership, external iconPROCEED, Inc.’s PODER en SALUDexternal icon, and the CDC Foundation’s Southern Allianceexternal icon.

Page last reviewed: April 18, 2022