Black Women Innovating for Good on the Frontlines of COVID-19

Each day, we receive new information on the coronavirus and its effect on our new normal. We know the latest figures on those affected, which businesses are closing, and what others are opening, among other information accessible at our fingertips.

It seems the same level of attention has not been given to how the coronavirus will continue to have on our local communities and daily lives.

African Americans and other communities of color are being structurally and disproportionately impacted by the pandemic. [Read: Understanding Why Black America is More Prone to the Long-term Impacts of a Global Pandemic]

Of these communities, women are impacted even more.

Like other communities of color, Black women play a vital role in the economic well-being of their families. They serve as the heads of households, primary caregivers, and essential workers at the frontlines of the industries operating to maintain the economic health of our country.

Despite their absence in media, Black women are creating magic that benefits society at large. In this piece we’ll explore just a few of the magicians innovating and leading at the forefront of the global pandemic:

#1: Dr. Kizzmekia S. Corbett Leads Groundbreaking COVID-19 Vaccine Research and Development

Image: NBC News

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) began making the fastest progress toward a possible vaccine for COVID-19 just days after President Donald Trump addressed the nation about early signs of the coronavirus and his predictions for Super Tuesday. This development, the first of its kind, is led by 34-year-old Dr. Kizzmekia S. Corbett, a viral immunologist and research fellow at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID).

Dr. Corbett is the only woman and person of color among her team of esteemed scientists which includes the likes of Dr. Anthony Fauci, Dr. John Mascola, Dr. Barney Graham, and Dr. Francis Collins, director of the NIH and physician who led the human genome project.

Her scientific career began at the University of Maryland — Baltimore County (UMBC), where she earned a BS in Biological Sciences in 2008. After one year of post-baccalaureate training at NIH, she enrolled in the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC), where she obtained her Ph.D. in Microbiology and Immunology in 2014. Her dissertation research, “Dissecting Human Antibody Responses to Dengue Virus Infection”, garnered national recognition likely to serve as preparation for the challenge to come — creating a vaccine for COVID-19.

“SARS and MERS, two coronaviruses, had already caused massive outbreaks,” she said in an interview with NBC News. “And these big, challenging questions remained, along with the fact that it was clear that it could happen again. It was looming out there and just a matter of time.”

Corbett turned her attention to coronaviruses when she joined the NIH’s Vaccine Research Center as a postdoctoral fellow in 2014. In a video released by the NIAID, Corbett explains the novel coronavirus and discusses efforts to develop a vaccine against it.

Phase I of a clinical trial evaluating the vaccine has begun at Kaiser Permanente Washington Health Research Institute (KPWHRI) in Seattle allowing experimentation and assessment of dosages.

#2: Fintech Founders, Doctors Create Telehealth Solutions for Marginalized Communities

Briana DeCuir, Nana Afoh-Manin, and Joanne Moreau are three community-driven physicians and the co-founders of the Shared Harvest Fund. This technology platform mitigates the negative physical and mental consequences that student debt can ensue by matching borrowers with skills-based volunteer projects that reward credit toward student loan balances.

The Shared Harvest Fund is filling a widening gap for marginalized communities by providing real-time health resources with myCOVIDMD — a free telehealth app and online portal that safely connects its users with the resources it provides.

Image: Shared Harvest Fund

The initiative is powered by Community Health Partners (CHPs), a volunteer task force created by the Fund to offer a virtual triaging system to reach people that are uninsured, underinsured, or displaced from a medical home due to COVID-19.

“It is our goal to minimize the rates of anxiety and fear while building more interconnectedness during this quarantine period, as our nation works on flattening the epidemiological curve and expanding health equity,” Shared Harvest founder, and Emergency Medicine Physician, Nana Afoh-Manin said.

DeCuir, Afoh-Manin, and Moreau have a combined 35 years of experience working on the frontlines of disaster and emergency medicine and know first-hand the innovation needed to resolve our health system’s inadequacies.

“What’s unique about my training as an ER doctor is that I’ve learned quickly that no patient can be left behind. You see anybody and everybody on the front lines. And so when it came to this public health crisis, we had to think the same way,” Afoh-Manin continued.

“The only way we are going to make sure that no individuals are left behind is to get into the community, meet them where they are, and provide the services they need so that we can stop this virus.”

The myCOVIDMD app leverages existing telemedical platforms to deploy culturally competent emergency responses and continue its inclusive approach to engaging volunteer professionals and minimizing poor mental health outcomes of the pandemic.

#3: Managing the Mental: Taraji P. Henson Brings Mental Health to the Masses

Beauty entrepreneur, philanthropist, and actress Taraji P. Henson recently announced her foundation The Boris Lawrence Henson Foundation (BLHF), has partnered with The Tupac Amaru Shakur Foundation to provide mental health support to those coping with the major lifestyle changes amid COVID-19.

Penson, known for leveraging her reach and audience for community issues, founded BLHF in 2018 and named it in honor of her father, Boris Lawrence Henson, who suffered from mental health challenges as a result of his tour of duty in the Vietnam War. Its mission is to eradicate the cultural stigma surrounding mental health and its medical treatment within the Black American

“…this is trauma on top of trauma. Economically, mental health is probably the last thing on their list and also resources, where do they go?” said Henson when speaking with ABC.

“No one should suffer in silence. Our vision is to change the perception of mental health in the black community. Together, we will make a difference. This is our legacy.”

The two organizations are accepting donations to conduct free emergency virtual therapy sessions with trained therapists to address these specific needs in the Black community. All funds, up to $25,000, raised by TASF today will be matched and donated to BLHF.

Parallel to this effort, BLHF has launched the COVID-19 Free Virtual Therapy Support Campaign which covers the cost for up to five individual sessions on a first-come, first-served basis until all funds are committed or exhausted.

The partnership will support essential workers, first responders, health care providers, and others navigating the stressful implications and major lifestyle changes as a result of the coronavirus.

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