June 16, 2021

Anti-racism education and COVID-19 impact: O’Brien Institute funds projects to support vulnerable populations

Four projects received catalyst funding
O’Brien Institute funds projects to support vulnerable populations

From examining the effects of the pandemic to using anti-racism education to improve health outcomes, O’Brien Institute for Public Health researchers are tackling some of today’s biggest public health challenges.

With the support of new catalyst funding from the O’Brien Institute, four projects will have even more of an impact improving long-term health outcomes for vulnerable populations.

Institute Scientific Director Dr. Tom Stelfox, MD, PhD, says these projects take a systems approach to serve socially and structurally vulnerable populations and aim to inform decision makers, leading to better health outcomes for all.

“Health equity is a foundational public health issue. Our society has recurrently failed Canada’s most vulnerable populations, and the COVID-19 pandemic has amplified those inequalities,” he says. “Research is urgently needed to determine how we can do better.”

The grant, which is funded  by an anonymous donation to the O’Brien Institute, will enable researchers to partner with respected community agencies and to take a systems approach to build a pipeline that channels community need through research-informed assessments and interventions toward policy changes and action.

Awarded projects

Anti-racism education for improving Indigenous Health Outcomes
Principal applicant: Dr. Rita Henderson, PhD

Colonization is a determinant of health for Indigenous peoples. Systemic racism toward Indigenous peoples and racialized violence against people of colour are the legacy of colonial policies and ideologies that spill over into present institutions and social interactions.

Henderson’s project aims to nurture allyship between Indigenous peoples and the healthcare system by providing skills, tools, and resources for new healthcare providers to address the factors that lead to homelessness and its health impacts. Exploring the drivers of anti-Indigenous racism across medical trainees provides the opportunity to address the enactment of anti-Indigenous racism before it takes place in clinical settings. Making accountability a core component of clinicians' identity at a personal, institutional, and professional level promotes advocacy for equity from early career stages.

The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on racial/ethnic inequities in diet quality and health in Alberta and Canada: A mixed methods, solution-focused investigation
Principal applicants: Dr. Dana Lee Olstad, PhD, Dr. Rosanne Blanchet, PhD

There is evidence that individuals from racial/ethnic minority groups in Alberta, and across Canada, experience discrimination and differential access to social and economic resources, and are more likely to experience food insecurity. These social and structural vulnerabilities and resulting health consequences have caused racial/ethnic minority groups to be more affected by the adverse social and economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.

This project will address these issues by quantifying trends in racial/ethnic inequities in diet quality, BMI, and self-rated mental and overall health from pre-pandemic to mid- to late-pandemic among adults living in Canada, and the role food insecurity plays. Researchers will explore experiences of food insecurity and inequities in diet quality and health during the pandemic, and the perceived effectiveness of existing and newly introduced programs and policies in alleviating these experiences, and create policy suggestions to reduce racial/ethnic inequities in diet quality and health in future.

Working with racialized populations to prevent domestic and sexual violence in Alberta: A participatory action research project to inform Alberta’s primary prevention framework
Principal applicant: Professor Lana Wells, MSW, RSW

Domestic and sexual violence are significant public health issues, with immediate and long-term health outcomes that have been linked to physical injury, unwanted pregnancy, sexually transmitted infections, post-traumatic stress disorder and depression, among others.

Wells’ project has two goals. It aims to work with community organizations and systems to identify and prioritize effective practice and policy levers that advance primary prevention of domestic and sexual violence focused on racialized populations.

Then, the information will be integrated into Alberta’s primary prevention framework and socialized with IMPACT member organizations/systems and the Government of Alberta, thereby supporting a coordinated systems approach to preventing domestic and sexual violence for racialized populations in Alberta.

Understanding the context of mandatory HIV screening during the Canadian Immigration Medical Exam (IME): IME panel physicians, HIV stigma, and linkage to the HIV care cascade
Principal applicants: Dr. Aniela M. dela Cruz, PhD, and the NewHITES Community Based Research Team (Newcomer, HIV, Immigration, Treatment Engagement and Stigma in Canada)

While the Canadian immigration medical examination (IME) mandates HIV screening of adults, current IME policies do not emphasize the importance of accessing HIV care during the migration and settlement trajectories of immigration applicants. This is significant in ensuring early engagement of all HIV infected persons in the HIV care cascade; this gap may lead to delayed or no HIV care for some immigration applicants putting them and others at risk for adverse health outcomes.

This project aims to describe current institutional contexts of the IME panel physician, including the mandatory HIV screening processes, current policies, and procedures, and to finalize, pilot, and refine data collection tools for future research.