Howard University received a $1.7 million grant from the CDC Foundation. Designed to reach historically marginalized and disadvantaged populations during public health crises, the endeavor has been dubbed Project REFOCUS.
Project REFOCUS takes a closer look at the intersecting pandemics of racism and Covid-19 and provides information to the communities most directly impacted. The project takes a look at the stereotypes surrounding the Covid-19 pandemic as well as the historical and present-day ways structural racism influences the social determinants of health and health access among diverse communities.
“During crises, fear can have a counter effect on access and adherence to community-level mitigation efforts,” said Monica Ponder, Ph.D., an epidemiologist and assistant professor of health communication in the Department of Communication, Culture and Media Studies at Howard University. “Chronic stress is an important pathway by which stigma influences physical and mental health. That can become a vicious cycle, fueled by racism and bias. Public health crisis communications must also recognize the historical trauma, lived experiences, and political climate in which people reside … to ignore this context is malpractice.”
The project – officially, Racial Ethnic Framing of Community-Informed and Unifying Surveillance, or REFOCUS – will study Covid-19-related stigma and discrimination in communities of concern, and provide real-time information for public health officials, members of the public, and policymakers to help them reach populations at increased risk by building trust between essential and frontline workers and the communities they serve.