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Inaugural global bidirectional grants awarded at Emory

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Emory University has awarded seven grants to researchers to improve health outcomes for Atlanta’s at-risk immigrant population. The initiative will harness the expertise of faculty working with underserved populations around the world and bring it to Atlanta.

The awards support interventions that improve the physical and mental health of people from Emory’s five priority countries. “We want to leverage Emory’s strategic global efforts and apply it to improve the lives of those communities here,” says Dr. Deborah Bruner, senior vice president for research at Emory, whose office is spearheading the initiative.

“While many universities have global partners, rarely do they have a focused bidirectional research program that seeks to improve the lives of those living in low to middle-income countries as well as those who have immigrated to the catchment areas of the university,” says Bruner.

The program emphasizes the importance of cross-disciplinary teams with health sciences-led proposals required to identify a team member from Emory College, Oxford, or the professional schools (law, business, theology). “It is important that this program become an avenue for faculty from different fields – who normally may not have crossed paths – to work together. We know that crosspollinating ideas and approaches can yield spectacular results and we want to see that happen here,” says Bruner.

Round one of the two-phased grants program awards $25,000 to each research team for planning. The second round will launch in 2021 and fund three of the current winners at up to $150,000 for two years.

The teams which won the pilot grants are working on a variety of issues – from bolstering mental health support for Ethiopian immigrant youth to building the capacity of community and religious groups to address chronic and non-communicable diseases among Southeast Asians.

One in ten Georgia residents is an immigrant, while nearly eight percent of residents are native-born U.S. citizens with at least one immigrant parent.

Below are brief summaries of the seven winning projects:

Title: The CENSAA study: A community-engaged health needs assessment of South Asians in Atlanta
PIs: Unjali Gujral (Co-PI), PhD; Megha Shah (Co-PI), MD 
School: Rollins School of Public Health, School of Medicine
Project Summary: South Asians, individuals who trace their ethnicity to the Indian subcontinent (India, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Pakistan, Bangladesh), represent one of the fastest-growing ethnic groups in the US and are at high risk for cardio-metabolic diseases such as diabetes, hypertension, and cardiovascular disease. The main objectives of this project are to understand the cardiometabolic health and culturally relevant risk factors of South Asians living in the Atlanta metro area.

Title: The India-Atlanta Institute on religion and public health
PI: John Blevins, PhD
School: Rollins School of Public Health, Global Health
Project Summary: 121,698 Asian Indians live in the 29-county metropolitan Atlanta region. In metropolitan Atlanta, South Asian resident health surveys identified non-communicable diseases (NCDs) including diabetes, hypertension, high cholesterol, and heart disease as the most pressing health concerns. A social determinant of health framework is essential for identifying and addressing those factors. The aim of this institute would be to build the capacity of local religious communities and affiliated health and service organizations (Christian, Hindu, and Muslim) in metropolitan Atlanta and in the Karnataka state of India to address chronic diseases and NCDs among the residents of these two areas.

Title: The EMER/I (Electronic Medical Records for Ethiopian Refugees and Immigrants)
PI: Anna Q. Yaffee, MD, MPH
School: School of Medicine, Emergency Medicine
Project Summary: Refugees and immigrants face multiple barriers to healthcare and patterns of healthcare utilization by refugees and immigrants in the US are poorly understood. Refugees and immigrants suffer from a relatively high burden of chronic disease, low rates of insurance coverage, and significant barriers when accessing outpatient care. The goal of this project is to develop and evaluate a method for identifying refugees and immigrants within the Emory and Grady healthcare systems that allow researchers and healthcare providers to better understand Ethiopian refugee/immigrant healthcare utilization and health status and helps protect their privacy.

Title: Building academic-community partnerships to enhance the mental health of Ethiopian immigrant youth
PI: Sophia Hussen MD, MPH
School: Rollins School of Public Health, Global Health
Project Summary: An estimated 13,000 Ethiopian-born individuals are currently living in the Atlanta Metropolitan Area. This community includes a large and growing population of Ethiopian and Ethiopian-American adolescents and young adults (AYA), who face various challenges to their physical and mental health as they transition to adulthood. Despite the many challenges to their physical and mental health, Ethiopian AYA also have access to many important resilience resources. The project’s long-term goal is to develop and test a Positive Youth Development-informed intervention to enhance mental health and well-being for Ethiopian AYA in Atlanta.

Title: Mental health needs of Ethiopian immigrant families in Atlanta
PI: Nadine Kaslow, PhD
School: School of Medicine, Psychology
Project Summary: Approximately 460,000 Ethiopian immigrants live in the US and account for 0.5 percent of the total US foreign-born population. Atlanta, Georgia is home to one of the largest Ethiopian populations in the country, and Clarkston, GA in DeKalb County contains the highest percentage nationwide of residents born in Ethiopia (11.4 percent). The goal of this study is to describe the mental health profile, associated risk and protective factors, and help-seeking patterns of the target population and collaboratively create a guide on how to modify common evidenced-based interventions to ensure their cultural relevance.

Title: Chronic cough across races: Understanding and comparing chronic cough symptoms due to air pollution among Chinese and Indian immigrants and the American population in Atlanta, Georgia.
PI: Adam Klein, MD, FACS
School: School of Medicine, Otolaryngology
Project Summary: Atlanta is one of the most diverse cities in the US with immigrants making up more than 13 percent of its local population. According to the 2016 Metropolitan Statistical Area’s breakdown of foreign-born populations, Indian immigrants constituted the largest proportion of the foreign population, with a total of 75,609 people. Chinese (including Taiwanese) immigrants rank the next, with a total of 34,183 people. Coincidentally, these two countries are known to have the worst air quality: nine of the ten most polluted cities in the world are in India, and of the 40 other most polluted cities in the world, 23 are in China. Our major goal in this project is to assess the variations and causal pathways of chronic cough symptoms among American citizens, Chinese immigrants, and Indian immigrants living in the Atlanta metropolitan area.

Title: Psychosocial determinants, gut microbiome, sleep, and mental health among Chinese and Korean Immigrants in the greater Atlanta area
PI (s): Jingbing Bai (Co-PI), PhD, RN, FAAN; Sangmi Kim(Co-PI), PhD, MPH, RN 
School: Nell Hodgson Woodruff School of Nursing
Project Summary:  Among various health problems for Asian immigrants, mental health, particularly depression and anxiety, needs significantly increased attention because these conditions are widespread in Asian Americans and decrease their quality of life in the US. This proposal aims to build an interdisciplinary team to study interrelationships of psychosocial determinants of health, gut microbiome, sleep quality, and mental health among adult Chinese and Korean immigrants (first and second generations) in the Greater Atlanta area.

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