A team of researchers co-led by Chandra Ford, professor of community health sciences in the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health, and Monica Ponder, assistant professor of health communication and culture at Howard University, has received a $1.7 million grant from the CDC Foundation designed to reach historically marginalized and disadvantaged populations during public health crises.

The endeavor, dubbed Project REFOCUS, leverages more than a decade of their experience applying epidemiology and health communication to racism as a public health problem to track the intersecting pandemics of racism, especially as expressed through stigma, and COVID-19, with a focus on providing information to the communities most directly affected. Key concerns include stereotypes about the origins of COVID-19 and the historical and present-day ways structural racism influences the social determinants of health and health access among diverse communities.

The project is led by the Fielding School’s UCLA Center for the Study of Racism, Social Justice & Health and Howard University’s Department of Communication, Culture and Media Studies. Ford, who currently serves as director of the center, was lead editor of “Racism: Science & Tools for the Public Health Professional” which was published in 2019 by the American Public Health Association and the first comprehensive work to understand and address the public health implications of racism. For that publication, Ford won an Outstanding Academic Title award for 2020 by the American Library Association’s Choice magazine.

The project — officially, Racial Ethnic Framing of Community-Informed and Unifying Surveillance, or REFOCUS — will study COVID-19-related stigma and discrimination in communities of concern, and provide real-time information for public health officials, members of the public, and policymakers to help them reach populations at increased risk by building trust between essential and frontline workers and the communities they serve.

Work on Project REFOCUS is underway, and the research teams have developed crisis communication tools and strategies for local communities and media, as well as a prototype tool for a stigma-focused community listening and surveillance for monitoring indicators of racism and stigma.

Read the Fielding School press release.