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UT professors establish Health Disparities Research Collaborative

Mental health, heart disease, diabetes and HIV/AIDS are more prevalent in Lucas County when compared to other counties in Ohio and other states throughout the U.S., and the infant mortality rate in Lucas County outranks many developing countries.

Two University of Toledo faculty members are addressing these health disparities with a new Health Disparities Research Collaborative (HDRC) that grew out of a shared passion for health equity, social justice and interdisciplinary collaborative research.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention define health disparities as “preventable differences in the burden of disease, injury, violence or opportunities to achieve optimal health that are experienced by social disadvantaged populations.”

As co-directors of the new research collaborative, Dr. Kimberly McBride and Dr. Shipra Singh, assistant professors of health and recreation in the College of Health Sciences, hope to build the HDRC into a program that will be on the forefront of health disparities research, training and service in the northwest Ohio region, as well as nationally and internationally. Specific areas of focus include health communication, mental health, minority health, mixed methodology and sexual and reproductive health.

Both new to The University of Toledo, McBride and Singh joined UT with experience in research aimed at reducing health disparities and creating opportunities for social justice, particularly among minority communities.

“Health equity is increasingly a priority within public health and medicine. Health is now being recognized as a fundamental human right,” McBride said. “From that perspective, efforts to eliminate health disparities are critical to ensuring that every human has the opportunity to enjoy health.”

Health disparities result from multiple factors including poverty, environmental threats, inadequate access to health care, individual and behavioral factors, and educational inequalities. They are directly related to the unequal distribution of social, political, economic and environmental resources.

“Historically, the groups that have had to bear the largest portion of the burden of disease and disability have been poor and marginalized communities. When we look at northwest Ohio, we see the same trend,” McBride said. “Our mission is to address the underlying issues that contribute to disparities through collaborative, community-engaged research and practice.”

Aside from research initiatives, a significant focus of the HDRC is the training and mentoring of future public health researchers, teachers and practitioners in a model of collaboration the prepares the next generation of professionals to adequately respond to critical issues in public health.

McBride and Singh are working to bring together faculty, graduate students and community-based organizations with plans to include undergraduate training opportunities in the future.

“Right now, our country is in crisis when it comes to the health status of the population,” McBride said. “The field of public health is supposed to be committed to improving social justice, which means that anyone who is working in the field should be making efforts to address health disparities and health equity.

“Our perspective with the HDRC is that bringing together people with diverse perspectives, skills and experiences improves our chances of making a meaningful contribution to these efforts,” said Singh.

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