Grant advances ASU's minority health research
The Southwest Interdisciplinary Research Center (SIRC) at ASU’s School of Social Work is the recipient of a five-year, $7.1 million grant from The National Institutes of Health (NIH). The award establishes SIRC as a Center of Excellence focused on improving health and reducing health disparities among racial and ethnic minorities in the U.S.-Mexico border region.
“Arizona’s minority communities follow national trends, which point to rapid demographic growth, overrepresentation in several disease categories and lack of access to health services,” said Flavio F. Marsiglia, director of SIRC and the grant’s principal investigator. “We will partner with these communities and their health care professionals, to examine how cultural processes fundamentally affect disease and health outcomes. For example, understanding how strong family connections affect health, may lead to new ways of preventing disease, delaying its onset and progression, and delivering more effective health care.”
This renewable funding solidifies SIRC’s research agenda on cultural strengths and resiliency factors found to be characteristic of specific populations. The new center’s clinical, behavioral and social sciences research will also consider economic, social and gender factors in health disparities. Models of prevention, intervention and health care delivery will be developed to reduce or eliminate disparities specifically in the areas of HIV/AIDS, mental health and substance abuse.
Research on protective cultural factors that buffer some ethnic minority communities against disease is sparse. The National Center on Minority Health and Health Disparities (NCMHD) selected SIRC for this nationally-competitive grant because of its foundation of prior research in culturally-grounded interventions in partnership with ethnic minority communities. SIRC, which was established in 2002 with support from the NIH/National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), is also known for its keepin’ it REAL program, a national model for drug resistance strategies among minority youth.
SIRC’s prior research has focused mainly on Mexican Americans and American Indians. This new infusion of funding will support the inclusion of the next two largest minority populations in Arizona: Asian Americans and African Americans in the center’s studies. The grant also aims to increase the number and capacity of researchers and professionals from health disparity populations who are trained in biomedical and behavioral research.
Dean Debra Friedman of the College of Public Programs, home of the new Center of Excellence, remarks, “Pulling together an interdisciplinary team to address critical social issues is SIRC’s hallmark, and this is no exception. Dr. Marsiglia has mobilized experts from nine disciplines, and together with more than 20 community partners, SIRC’s team will engage in research that promises to advance the health and well-being of minority communities in the Southwest and beyond.”
The center’s location provides an opportunity to assess the impact of a constant influx of immigration and rapidly growing disadvantaged groups. In 2003, the Arizona Department of Health Services rated Latino health “worse than average” in 22 of 70 categories and American Indian health “worse than average” in 39 of 70 categories. These two historical ethnic communities of the Southwest represent 30 percent of Maricopa County’s population. African Americans, who represent four percent of the county’s population, ranked “worse than average” in 53 out of 70 health indicators. While Asian Americans ranked the healthiest among ethnic groups in Arizona with only “worse than average” health indicators in five out of 70 areas, little information exists about this population’s health status, and they are the fastest growing ethnic minority group in the U.S.
Elizabeth Ortiz de Valdez, president and CEO of Concilio Latino de Salud, Inc., a member of SIRC’s community board notes, “Our organization has been able to enhance our capacity to serve diverse populations through collaborations with SIRC. We are convinced that this vital research can help remove barriers to access, utilize individual and family strengths, and address universal concerns such as gaps in serving minority populations and addressing the HIV/AIDS epidemic.”
In addition to Marsiglia, co-principal investigators include Eddie Brown, professor and director of American Indian Studies; Felipe Castro, professor, Department of Psychology; Angela Chia-Chen Chen, assistant professor, College of Nursing and Healthcare Innovation; Olga I. Davis, associate professor, Hugh Downs School of Human Communication; Mary Gillmore, professor and director, School of Social Work; and Stephen Kulis, director of research, Southwest Interdisciplinary Research Center and professor, School of Social and Family Dynamics.
Other investigators on the new grant are Patricia Dustman, director of development and implementation, Southwest Interdisciplinary Center; Steven Haas, assistant professor, School of Social and Family Dynamics; Cecilia Menjivar, associate professor, School of Social and Family Dynamics; Michael Niles, assistant professor, School of Social Work; Barbara Robles, associate professor, School of Social Work; and Scott Yabiku, assistant professor, School of Social and Family Dynamics.