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NIH Awards $234M to Boost COVID-19 Testing for Underserved Populations

NEW YORK – The National Institutes of Health announced Wednesday it has awarded almost $234 million to 32 organizations to improve COVID-19 testing for underserved and vulnerable communities.

The funding is part of the Rapid Acceleration of Diagnostics (RADx) initiative's program called RADx Underserved Populations (RADx-UP) and will focus on communities disproportionately affected by the pandemic, including African Americans, Latinos, Native Hawaiians, pregnant women, incarcerated people, and older adults. RADx was launched in April to speed up innovation in development, commercialization, and implementation of COVID-19 testing.

RADx-UP's goal is to better understand COVID-19 testing patterns among vulnerable communities, strengthen data on disparities in infection rates, disease progression, and outcomes, and develop strategies to reduce the disparities. The program is supporting projects with established community partnerships that can use existing research infrastructures to increase access and uptake of testing among these populations, NIH said in a statement.

The first group of awards is to foster "a collaborative clinical research network of existing large-scale programs that have adequate capacity, infrastructure, and relationships with underserved communities," the agency said in a statement. NIH also plans to issue a second set of awards to programs with established community engagement components, pending funding availability.

Funds will also be used to conduct research on the social, ethical, and behavioral consequences of health disparities and their impact on testing to "inform the development and evaluation of testing programs," NIH added. There will also be a coordination and data collection center at Duke University to provide support on administrative logistics and overall infrastructure for the data collection, integration and sharing.

The program will also award funding in the coming months to address the needs of pandemic response and integrate new advances such as vaccines and new testing approaches, as well as expanding studies and populations being reached.