NIH to Assess, Expand COVID-19 Testing for Underserved Communities

The announcement is part of the Rapid Acceleration of Diagnostics (RADx) initiative and the RADx Underserved Populations (RADx-UP) program, which will support 32 institutions across the United States and focus on populations disproportionately affected by the pandemic.

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has awarded nearly $234 million to improve coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) testing for underserved and vulnerable populations, according to a press release.

The announcement is part of the Rapid Acceleration of Diagnostics (RADx) initiative and the RADx Underserved Populations (RADx-UP) program, which will support 32 institutions across the United States and focus on populations disproportionately affected by the pandemic. These groups include African Americans, American Indians/Alaskan Natives, Latinos/Latinas, Native Hawaiians, older adults, pregnant women, and homeless or incarcerated individuals.

“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 Francis S. Collins, MD, PhD, NIH director, in a 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 program aims to understand COVID-19 testing patterns better among underserved and vulnerable populations, strengthen the data on disparities in infection rates, disease progression and outcomes, and develop strategies to reduce these disparities in COVID-19 testing.

The RADx-UP program has 3 primary components supported by the NIH grants to increase availability, accessibility, and acceptance of testing among underserved and vulnerable populations. These include:

  • 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. These projects will focus on assessing issues such as ethical, historical, social, and economic factors that influence the ability and willingness to be tested.
  • A coordination and data collection center at Duke University, Durham, North Carolina, providing overarching support and guidance on administrative operations and logistics, facilitating effective use of COVID-19 testing technologies, supporting community and health system engagement, and providing overall 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, MD, director of the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities, in a press release. “These existing partnerships will serve as the foundation for swift implementation of interventions to promote greater health equity.”

The RADx-UP program will award additional funding, pending availability of funds to 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 in the upcoming months, according to the press release.

REFERENCE

NIH to assess and expand COVID-19 testing for undeserved communities. NIH. https://www.nih.gov/news-events/news-releases/nih-assess-expand-covid-19-testing-underserved-communities. Published September 30, 2020. Accessed September 30, 2020.