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NIH invests $171M in new effort to improve health equity


It’s a different approach for the federal government’s largest source of funds for health research.

The National Institutes of Health has long financed research programs aimed at curing cancer and other diseases, but the agency is now undertaking a different approach to improve the health of Americans.

The National Institutes of Health is launching a new program to finance community-based efforts to improve health equity. (Photo: NIH)

The National Institutes of Health is launching a new program to finance community-based efforts to improve health equity. (Photo: NIH)

The NIH, the federal government’s largest source of funds for medical research, has launched a new grant program to finance community groups focusing on health equity. The NIH announced the new community-based program Wednesday.

The grant program is going to support organizations working on solutions to address the social drivers of health, such as nutrition, transportation, access to healthcare services and employment opportunities.

The NIH is directing $171 million over a five-year period. The agency is offering grants to 26 recipients and a coordinating center at Drexel University. (Here’s the list of recipients.)

The initiative is dubbed the NIH Common Fund Community Partnerships to Advance Science for Society (ComPASS) program. The NIH says community organizations will work with research partners to develop interventions aimed at meeting the needs of local residents and then will evaluate if the projects made a difference in health outcomes.

NIH Acting Director Lawrence Tabak described the program.

"The ComPASS research model harnesses diverse perspectives and expertise to examine systemic factors that impact the health of individuals, communities, and populations," Tabak said in a statement. “We are excited to see how results from these awards exemplify the transformative power of community-driven research."

The grants will finance an array of projects aiming at improving the health of disadvantaged communities.

For example, the Housing Authority of the City of Los Angeles is getting financing to help improve the health of residents in the Watts neighborhood, a community of 40,000 residents where almost all the residents are Latino or Black. The University of California Los Angeles and Charles Drew University will work on a program to develop a network of community gardens to give people more access to healthy foods.

The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services is getting funding to support a digital health initiative aimed at rural communities. The department is coordinating a program to improve internet connectivity to expand access to telehealth services in rural areas.

The NIH says it hopes to gain insights from this program in launching other community-based health research initiatives. The NIH touts the program in this video.

Read more from Chief Healthcare Executive®:

Physician, scientist and patient: Biden’s nominee to lead NIH draws praise

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