Researchers at the CUNY Institute for Health Equity at Lehman are partnering with Bronx Health Link on a new study they hope will shed light on a chronic health issue adversely affecting Bronx residents: the high rate of infant mortality. "The Effects of Environmental Stress on Birth Outcomes in the South Bronx" is being headed by Lehman Health Sciences Professors Mary Huynh and Marilyn Aguirre-Molina, who is the principal investigator of the study.
A 2009 report published by the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene revealed that, from 1998 to 2007, the infant mortality rate in New York City declined by a little more than twenty percent, from 6.8 to 5.4. In 2007, however, the rate in the Bronx was 6.2, followed by Brooklyn (5.4), Queens (5.0), Staten Island (3.9), and Manhattan (3.7). This is the highest rate of any borough and represents a consistent and continuing trend.
"Last summer, I had some graduate students doing their practicum with the Institute and one of them was very interested in the South Bronx," explains Dr. Aguirre-Molina, who also directs the Institute. "The question arose—what is it about living in the South Bronx that creates or contributes to these adverse outcomes?" She sent the student to interview Bronx Health Link, a community organization focused on improving the health of Bronx women and their families, to determine that answer. Not too long afterward, a partnership was born. Bronx Health Link helped the researchers identify the specific needs in this community and worked with the Institute to create the project proposal and secure funding. Bronx Health Link's community health workers also will assist with research on the project.
Beginning this fall, Institute researchers will spend eight to ten months in the field gathering data and another year assembling the data. The Institute's study will include qualitative and quantitative research, and offer hands-on training to five students pursuing their Master of Public Health (MPH) degree—three of them from Lehman and two from Hunter College—who are serving as the Institute's research scholars.
"We're hoping to recruit 1,000 women who gave birth in the past two years," says Professor Huynh. "We will assess their environment, ask questions about their neighborhood, stresses caused by life events." The team will look at how the answers to those questions, both from the control group and the women who gave birth prematurely, affect birth outcomes in the South Bronx. Researchers will also interview 20-50 women whose infants have died. Professor Andrew Maroko (Environmental, Geographic, and Geological Studies), the team's public health geographer, will conduct an environmental audit, which evaluates a community's food, air quality, and cleanliness.
"We are one of the richest cities in the United States and it just doesn't seem fair that there are populations in our city who are suffering unfairly, due to lack of resources or attention," says Dr. Aguirre-Molina.. She adds that the results of the study have multiple audiences: a formal report for the research community and policy makers, as well as user-friendly information for the community at large. "As an institute affiliated with a large public institution, it's part of our responsibility to use knowledge to achieve health equity."
The CUNY Institute for Health Equity, which opened its doors at Lehman in 2009, works to expand the capacity and resources of Lehman, other CUNY campuses, and the wider community. Working directly with several community organizations in the Bronx, Manhattan, and Brooklyn, it seeks to build the capacity of non-profit and community-based organizations to address health problems in their communities; provide learning opportunities for students to work toward health equity; and strengthen multidisciplinary cooperation and research on health equity issues both within and beyond CUNY.
Health care within a community is a significant concern. Factors that contribute to a community's health are individual habits, environment, education, awareness, jobs, etc. Together, the Robert Wood Foundation and the University of Wisconsin have presented the health outcomes for communities of each state. Figures and maps are used to rank, and differentiate the healthy and unhealthy counties. For example, in the categories Health Factors and Health Outcomes, the Bronx was ranked lastly because of poor health within the community.