The National Institutes of Health (NIH) announced Wednesday that is has awarded close to $234 million in grants to 32 institution across the U.S. to ramp up testing for underserved and vulnerable populations to the COVID-19 pandemic. Implemented as part of the Rapid Acceleration of Diagnostics (RADx) initiative, the RADx Underserved Populations (RADx-UP) program will seek to address disparities among African Americans, American Indians/Alaskan Natives, Latinos/Latinas, Native Hawaiians, older adults, pregnant women and those who are homeless or incarcerated.
To do this, RADx-UP will examine testing patterns among these underserved and vulnerable populations. It seeks to improve the data on disparities in infection rates, disease progression and outcomes and develop strategies to reduce the disparities in COVID-19 testing.
“It is critical that all Americans have access to rapid, accurate diagnostics for COVID-19, especially underserved and vulnerable populations who are bearing the brunt of this disease,” said NIH Director Francis S. Collins, M.D., Ph.D., in. press release. “The RADx-UP program will help us better understand and alleviate the barriers to testing for those most vulnerable and reduce the burden of this disease.”
The RADx-UP grants fund three component that are intended to increase availability, accessibility and acceptance of testing among underserved and vulnerable populations
- A collaborative clinical research network of existing large-scale programs that have adequate capacity, infrastructure and relationships with underserved communities
- Research on the social, ethical and behavioral implications of these health disparities to inform the development and evaluation of testing programs
- A coordination and data collection center at Duke University that will provide overarching support and guidance on administrative operations and logistics to facilitate effective use of COVID-19 testing technologies, support community and health system engagement, and provide infrastructure for data collection, integration and sharing.
“Long-term community engagement efforts established by these researchers and programs provide an essential mechanism for discovering the factors that lead to COVID-19 related disparities,” said Eliseo J. Pérez-Stable, M.D., director of the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities. “These existing partnerships will serve as the foundation for swift implementation of interventions to promote greater health equity.”
Depending on availability of future funds, RADx-UP intends to support additional measures that address the evolving needs of the pandemic response, integrate new scientific and/or technologic advances such as vaccines, novel therapeutics and new testing approaches, and expand the studies and/or populations being reached.