Institute for Better Health (IBH) researchers are the recipients of new grants from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR), Canada’s federal funding agency for health research. With two projects selected, IBH researchers are partnering with our community to shape a new kind of health care, and leading in research areas like mental health for newcomers and refugees and HPV screening for Black women and people with a cervix.

Let’s take a look at this year’s award-winning scientists and projects.

Scientists and researchers from diverse communities, especially those from socio-economically excluded or racialized groups, continue to be underrepresented at all levels in health research in the Canadian context. Approximately 41 percent of Canada Research Chairs identify as women, 22.8 percent as people of colour, six percent as a person living with a disability and 3.4 percent as Indigenous. Put simply, the health sciences often fail to reflect Canada’s socio-cultural diversity. This lack of representation stymies innovation and prevents the research advancements necessary to enhance patient care and improve the health system for all.

The CIHR recently launched the Research Excellence, Diversity and Independence (REDI) Early Career Transition Award with an aim to facilitate the transition of promising researchers who self-identify as Black and racialized women into independent research faculty positions in Canadian academic, health system and research institutions. IBH’s Dr. Cilia Mejia-Lancheros, Research Lead of the Family and Child Health Initiative, and Dr. Nakia Lee-Foon, Health Equity Research Lead, are recipients of this new award.

Dr. Mejia-Lancheros’s funded project, “Co-building a community-based and family-focused program to enhance the positive mental well-being of newcomer and refugee families in the Peel Region,” involves co-designing, implementing, and evaluating a community-based, culturally sensitive and family-focused program that aims to improve the positive mental well-being of newcomer families in Peel Region.

The program will respond to the mental health priorities of newcomer families and address social determinants of mental and emotional well-being, such as barriers to accessing appropriate and culturally sensitive mental well-being support and care, during the settlement process. The program will be co-designed alongside community-based organizations serving newcomers (immigrants and refugees) in Peel, as well as diverse and multidisciplinary supportive teams and peer workforce, including people with lived experiences of immigration with and without mental health challenges. Together, they will co-create more culturally sensitive and person- and family-centred mental health and emotional support services for newcomer families settling in Peel and that can be scaled to another setting across Canada.

In Dr. Lee-Foon’s study, “EMPOWHPVR: Exploring the factors that impact HPV-self testing uptake amongst Black women and people with a cervix [WPC] in Peel region, Ontario,” she responds to limited literature on cervical cancer screening amongst Black populations in Canada and an issue observed by community health centres in the Peel region – low cervical cancer screening rates amongst Black WPC. This study will be shaped by Community Research Assistants who identify as Black WPC, community-based organizations that serve Black populations and Black stakeholders in Peel. Insight collected from patients and service providers (for example, nurses, doctors, social workers) will be used to develop and pilot an intervention that aims to provide Black WPC with information that may empower them to self-sample, which could help detect HPV and precancerous cells earlier. This intervention could help lower health-care costs by reducing clinician-sampled HPV testing and help inform interventions with other equity deserving groups with similar screening rates.

Findings will help create a piloted health-equity-informed intervention that is high quality, accessible, sustainable and can be easily integrated into care. The study’s focus on understudied populations – Black WPC – also seeks to empower participants to self sample, as well as build an intervention co-designed with and tailored for Black WPC. Dr. Lee-Foon’s study counters the often delayed, reactionary approach to the health care of Black communities in Ontario.

We need innovative and dynamic health research that reflects the realities patients and community members face on a day-to-day basis to drive change in health care. Recognition and funding from CIHR allows for greater engagement and collaboration with patients, families and community members, as well as providing opportunities for co-design and evaluation, using a Learning Health System approach. The new CIHR-REDI award and its IBH recipients, Dr. Mejia-Lacheros and Dr. Lee-Foon, are shaping the future of health care and communities, making health services more equitable, inclusive, accessible and sustainable to improve health and well-being for everyone.

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