UAB launches studies on COVID-19 awareness in minority populations

The CEAL study in Alabama will focus on awareness and barriers surrounding COVID-19 on minority populations.

Head shot of Dr. Mona Fouad, MD (Professor/Sr. Associate Dean, Preventive Medicine), 2018.Mona Fouad, M.D., director of the UAB Minority Health & Health Disparities Research Center.Researchers across the University of Alabama at Birmingham are part of a National Institutes of Health-funded effort for outreach and engagement efforts in ethnic and racial minority communities disproportionately affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. The NIH Community Engagement Alliance Against COVID-19 Disparities, or CEAL, will focus on African Americans, Hispanics/Latinos, and American Indians — populations that account for over half of all reported cases in the United States. 

CEAL is funded by a $12 million award to teams in 11 states: Alabama, Arizona, California, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, North Carolina, Tennessee and Texas. The CEAL teams will promote and facilitate the inclusion and participation of underrepresented communities in vaccine and therapeutic clinical trials to prevent and treat the disease. 

“Building on existing partnerships within UAB, the goal of Alabama CEAL is to establish a research and community engagement infrastructure to identify contributing factors to the disproportionate burden of COVID-19 in vulnerable communities and establish effective, community-engaged strategies to enhance education, address misinformation, improve access and increase inclusion of underserved populations in COVID-19 research,” said Mona Fouad, M.D., director of the UAB Minority Health & Health Disparities Research Center and lead principal investigator for UAB.  

The UAB investigators will leverage the infrastructure and community partnerships of the Minority Health & Health Disparities Research Center, the Center for Clinical and Translational Science, and the Schools of Medicine, Public Health and Health Professions

Additional principal investigators are Andrea Cherrington, M.D., professor in the Division of Preventive Medicine, School of Medicine; Suzanne Judd, Ph.D., professor in the Department of Biostatistics, School of Public Health; and Robert Kimberly, M.D., director of the Center for Clinical and Translational Science and associate vice president for Medicine and Biomedical Research, School of Medicine.

Investigators with CEAL are Shauntice Allen, Ph.D., assistant professor in the Department of Environmental Health Sciences, School of Public Health; Lori Bateman, Ph.D., instructor in the Division of Preventive Medicine, School of Medicine; Jennifer Croker, Ph.D., assistant professor in the Division of Immunology and Rheumatology, School of Medicine; Allyson Hall, Ph.D., professor in the Department of Health Services Administration, School of Health Professions; and Gabriela Oates, Ph.D., assistant professor in the Division of Pediatric Pulmonary and Sleep Medicine, School of Medicine. 

“We have seen firsthand that COVID-19 disproportionally affects disadvantaged communities,” Kimberly said. “We need inclusive research that represents all of our diverse communities to find treatments and vaccines that are effective for all Americans.”

“This effort will allow us to advance the prevention and treatment of COVID-19 in highly vulnerable rural and urban communities in Alabama and reduce COVID-19 disparities,” Judd said. “Over the longer term, this effort will serve as a foundation for future projects to address disparities in chronic disease outcomes across Alabama and the Southeast.” 

CEAL4CEAL will focus initially on outreach and education in two urban counties (Jefferson and Mobile) and one rural county (Dallas)“Alabama CEAL will allow for significant collaboration among faculty members with distinct and complementary expertise and a leadership team with extensive experience with planning, implementation and evaluation of community-engaged research studies and projects serving vulnerable populations in underserved communities,” Cherrington said.

The UAB CEAL investigators will initially focus on two urban counties, Jefferson and Mobile, and one rural county, Dallas, in Alabama’s Black Belt.

Alabama CEAL has two main goals:

  • Conduct urgent community-engaged research and outreach focused on COVID-19 awareness and education to address the widespread misinformation about the coronavirus and promote an evidence-based response to the disease.
  • Promote and facilitate inclusion of diverse racial and ethnic populations in COVID-19 clinical trials (prevention, vaccine, therapeutics), reflective of the populations disproportionately affected by the pandemic.

CEAL research teams include NIH and other federally funded entities that have community engagement expertise, non-academic community-based organizations, Federally Qualified Health Centers, state and/or local health departments, and others. Their goals are to quickly launch outreach efforts that can help reduce the impact of COVID-19 on the most vulnerable populations and to evaluate these efforts through community-engaged research.

For more information about CEAL, visit the NIH COVID-19 communities page.