Largest grant in Delaware State’s history to fund health inequity research

People gather together and pose for a photo.

University memebers involved to the success of getting awarded the 18.4 million research grant. (Johnny Perez-Gonzalez/WHYY)

Delaware State University received the National Institutes of Health’s award of a five-year, $18.36 million research grant to fund the campus’s Interdisciplinary Health Equity Research Center to study Delaware’s health disparities.

The work will look into disparities like the state’s infant mortality rate, which is four times higher for Black children than white children.

DSU President Tony Allen said it’s the single largest federal research grant in university history.

“Organizations like ours need to be engaged in a real way, in a participatory way, and that we can make a real difference when we think about it comprehensively as opposed to a single discipline,” Allen said.

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The grant will allow the school to expand its work on health disparities, especially in Kent and Sussex counties, where research is underserved, said DSU Associate VP for Research Melissa Harrington.

“The solutions are not just medical. It’s how can you change people’s behavior and make it easier for them to eat healthier, to exercise more, to make better choices, to not smoke, to not use drugs,” she said. “The kind of research that we really wanted to get going at Delaware State really focuses on how can you give people the social support to help them make better decisions about their health.”

According to the Delaware Department of Health Vital Statistics Data, the infant mortality rate for white infants is 4.2 deaths per 1,000 births for the years 2015-2019. The mortality rate for Black infants is 12.5 deaths per 1,000 births, which is four times that of white children.

“We need to do a better job,” said state Senator Trey Paradee. “The sad reality is simply that the state has been working on addressing it, and we have not made the kind of progress that we need to make. That is affecting children of color up and down the state, but in particular my district in the city of Dover and then, of course, up in the city of Wilmington.”

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Disparities in outcomes also exist in cases of diabetes and obesity.

The funds will be used to recruit new faculty members to develop successful research, to create community partners through small grant programs and mentorship, and to update equipment and acquire software analysis.

DSU hopes to hire faculty members within the next six months. They’re already hoping to renew the grant funding when it expires in five years.

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