Eliseo J. Pérez-Stable, M.D.
Director, National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities
Monica Webb Hooper, Ph.D.
Deputy Director, National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities
As leaders of the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities (NIMHD), we want to express our sincerest thanks to the NIMHD scientific community and staff for their efforts as we continue to experience the most challenging public health crisis in over a century. Your rapid-response efforts to document, understand, and address the undue burden of COVID-19 among populations with health disparities—the very groups already dealing with longstanding disparities in life expectancy and overall well-being—have not gone unnoticed. We deeply appreciate your unwavering commitment to research designed to uncover the causes of health disparities, develop interventions to address them, and promote health equity.
Since March 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic has radically affected us in our daily lives—as individuals, families, and as members of the biomedical research workforce. We have all had to manage unfathomable adjustments and elevated stress both personally and professionally. The pandemic has disproportionately affected the lives and livelihoods of populations that experience health disparities in even more pronounced ways. And these groups—racial and ethnic minority communities, socioeconomically disadvantaged persons, people who live in rural underserved areas and sexual and gender minority persons—are prioritized by NIMHD.
The COVID-19 pandemic has also laid bare the inequities embedded within systems of health care, public health, and science, as well as employment, housing, and education. We are proud that as the U.S. and the world have grappled with this unprecedented public health crisis, NIMHD and our community have become an essential part of the scientific response. You have undertaken critical and creative efforts to maintain your research programs, staff, and community partnerships. You have continued to engage with participants as they, too, navigated this new and unfortunate reality, often struggling through the distress and pain associated with the pandemic. Below, we outline a few of these efforts, recognizing that they represent only a fraction of what could be shared.
- Researchers responded to calls from community partners requesting connections to COVID-19 information, resources, and services. As a result, new collaborations and partnerships were formed and priorities shifted to focus on COVID-19 risk mitigation and prevention.
- As COVID-19 precluded face-to-face interactions with participants, research teams made swift adjustments, working closely with community partners and health systems to develop and implement COVID-safe procedures to facilitate recruitment, data collection, and intervention delivery. They learned that participants generally maintained their interest in study participation, and, at times, had even greater availability to participate in online, virtual, or telephone-administered activities.
- Researchers also noted and attempted to address barriers to remote participation, underscoring the digital divide that remains in many medically underserved communities, such as lack of (stable) internet access and smart phone costs. Teams also went to extraordinary lengths to collect biological samples (e.g., saliva) via mail, examining the feasibility and utility of doing so, as well as managing delays in sample processing.
The COVID-19 pandemic continues to affect our lives and those of our community partners, participants, and patients. There is great uncertainty about when, if ever, activities may return to their pre-pandemic state. We recognize that in some cases, research teams have experienced reduced enrollment and missing data, and have had to suspend operations on specific projects. We hope that these conditions improve in the coming months so that your important contributions to communities and the overall body of knowledge will endure. We are confident that our communities will continue to be resilient, rise to the challenge, and adapt to current conditions.
We would be remiss if we did not convey our deep gratitude to the NIMHD staff. Our leaders, program directors, scientific review administrators, grants management staff, policy, evaluation, and reporting staff, communications staff, and our mission-critical administrative and technological support teams have gone above and beyond to navigate the challenges of institute operations with extraordinary flexibility, teamwork, and action. We feel like work has never been as intense as it has in the time of COVID-19, but none of it would be possible without the dedicated people who work at NIMHD. The goal of making the world better is a potent motivator, and these efforts are meaningful and important.
Our appreciation and thanks to the entire NIMHD biomedical research enterprise cannot be expressed enough. Let’s continue to take care of ourselves and our families as we work to make positive differences in the lives of the communities we serve.