ESE’s MacDonald Gibson awarded RWJF grant to study water and health disparities in NC
|January 08, 2013|
Jacqueline MacDonald Gibson, PhD, has received one of this year’s four prestigious Health Systems and Services Research Mentored Research Scientist Development Awards, presented by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) to emerging researchers who examine the effects of public health services on population health.
MacDonald Gibson, assistant professor of environmental sciences and engineering at Gillings School of Global Public Health at The University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, will study disparities in public water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) service access, including the roles of race and socio-economic status, how lack of access contributes to health disparities and resulting health and economic costs, policy and institutional barriers that perpetuate WASH disparities, and potential solutions and benefits.
A central focus of the project will be the historically African-American Rogers Road/Eubanks neighborhood in Chapel Hill, N.C. A landfill located in the community has resulted in health risks for the residents, and many of the community’s homes still lack access to municipal water, sewer and other town services. The Gillings School of Global Public Health’s Department of Environmental Sciences and Engineering and its student organization, Engineers Without Borders, have been longtime data-gatherers and advocates for the neighborhood.
“This funding allows us to find ways to resolve a longstanding and thorny problem in North Carolina, continuing UNC’s tradition of conducting research in the service of the health of North Carolinians,” MacDonald Gibson said. “I’m thrilled to be granted this opportunity to help improve lives of disenfranchised citizens of our state.”
MacDonald Gibson’s mentors on the project are Jamie Bartram, PhD, Holzworth Distinguished Professor of environmental sciences and engineering and director of The Water Institute at UNC, and Jeffrey Engel, MD, executive director of The Council of State and Territorial Epidemiologists and former North Carolina State Health Director (2009-2012). Both applaud her work to address inequities in the delivery of public services, particularly those involving water and sanitation.
“Inequality is a fundamental issue in public health,” Bartram said, “and inequality in drinking water access has become a major international policy issue since the United Nations General Assembly’s formal recognition of the human right to water and sanitation in 2010. [Jackie's] work brings together her own proven skills with other work at UNC on water inequality and its measurement to look at practical ways to increase access to essential health-protecting services for needy populations. It tackles real, on-the ground problems in North Carolina and points to approaches of value across the nation and countries worldwide.”
Engel agrees. “It’s hard to believe that in the 21st century, gross inequities remain in the basic public health services of access to safe, clean drinking water and sanitation,” he said. “The legacy of slavery and Jim Crowism resulted in systematic exclusion of African-American communities to municipal utilities throughout the South. Dr. MacDonald’s project will provide real-world awareness and community engagement and solutions. Importantly, the local project results can be generalized across the state, the U.S. and in communities around the world.”
The two-year, $100,000 grant, administered by the National Coordinating Center for Public Health Services and Systems Research, housed at The University of Kentucky College of Public Health and funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, was established to produce timely evidence to guide decisions by public health practitioners and policy makers, while enabling early-career investigators to develop skills and establish independent careers in public health services and systems research.
Others who received this year’s Robert Wood Johnson Foundation development award include:
About the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation
About the National Coordinating Center for Public Health Services and Systems Research (PHSSR)