The Southwest Health Equity Research Collaborative (SHERC) awarded three NAU researchers grants totaling $150,000 for health equity research in the local community through the Pilot Project Program (PPP).
The PPP awarded grants to: Davis Henderson, assistant professor in the Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders, for his project “Navajo Children with and without Speech Sound Disorders; Amanda Hunter, postdoctoral scholar, Center for Health Equity Research, for her project “Native Spirit: Development, Implementation, and Evaluation of a Culturally Grounded After-school Program”; and Anita Antoninka, assistant professor, Department of Forestry, for her project “Testing the Utility of Biocrust Restoration to Stabilize Soils and Reduce Coccidioides Abundance.”
The PPP provides initial seed funding for junior investigators, including assistant professors, assistant research professors and senior post-doctoral scholars to establish new impactful programs in health equity research, with priority given to exemplary projects that address diseases that disproportionately impact health disparity populations and lead to development and support of sustainable relationships with community-based partners.
The SHERC Investigator Development Core (IDC) funded the three new pilot projects during the fifth annual cycle of its five-year grant. In total, the IDC has supported 20 pilot projects totaling more than $1 million in funding across various disciplines that all improve health equity. The support also increases the researchers’ competitiveness for National Institutes of Health and other external health and health equity-related research funding.
Henderson’s project, “Navajo Children with and without Speech Sound Disorders,” aims to determine the diagnostic accuracy of two well-known tests administered to Navajo children with and without speech sound disorders. He will then describe speech production patterns of Navajo children with and without SSDs and determine how error patterns and observed phonological processes differ from those seen in children who speak Mainstream American English.
According to Henderson’s research, there are 574 federally recognized American Indian tribes in the United States. Despite a mandate by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act in 1997 that that all students be evaluated through a nonbiased assessment in their native language, there are no speech assessments that consider the speech production characteristics of American Indian children with or without speech sound disorders.
Hunter’s project, “Native Spirit: Development, Implementation, and Evaluation of a Culturally Grounded After-school Program,” will partner with after-school programs serving American Indian and Alaska Native youth to assess the impact of a 10-session intervention designed to enhance protective factors associated with adolescent behavioral health, including decreasing substance use.
The goal of the study is to strengthen self-esteem, resilience, and cultural identity and substance use among urban American Indian and Alaska Native youth in grades 7 through 12 through participation in a culturally grounded after-school program called Native Spirit.
American Indian and Alaska Native youth have the highest rates of lifetime major depressive episodes. In 2017, American Indian and Alaska Native youth ages 15 through 19 had twice as many suicides compared to White adolescents. These statistics demonstrate the need for early intervention to promote health among these adolescents.
Antoninka’s project, “Testing the Utility of Biocrust Restoration to Stabilize Soils and Reduce Coccidioides Abundance,” is studying Valley Fever, an infection caused by the fungus Coccidioides, which is a prevalent cause of community acquired pneumonia in the Southwestern U.S.
According to Antoninka’s research, the disease is mild or asymptomatic in most people, but in others, it can cause severe respiratory illness and even death. Native American and Hispanic people are more likely to have severe manifestations or die from the disease than Caucasians. Although the cause of this disparity is unknown, it is likely a result of several factors, including work in agriculture, residence in areas experiencing land degradation and dust emissions, and inequity in healthcare.
The research team will test several methods of restoring biocrusts in a Valley Fever hotspot near Scottsdale, Arizona, to determine which methods best mitigate dust from soil and reduce the abundance of Coccidioides.
SHERC is a National Institutes of Health (NIH) funded cooperative agreement with the Center for Health Equity Research at Northern Arizona University. SHERC is supported by funding from the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities of the NIH (U54MD012388).