AUGUST 12, 2013
A Brazilian-born researcher who runs minority health programs at a public university in Alabama has convinced the U.S. government to give her $1.5 million to help women quit smoking in her native country.
A noble cause indeed, but likely not on the high list of the American taxpayers funding the project. Nevertheless, the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the nation’s medical research agency, has given the Brazilian researcher, Isabel Scarinci, a five-year, $1.5 million grant to fund her international tobacco-control project.
The goal is to better understand “women and their tobacco-related issues” in the South American country, especially in Scarinci’s Brazilian hometown of Parana. In the last two years alone, the researcher has received north of $560,000 for the initiative, according to NIH records for fiscal years 2012 and 2013.
Here is what Uncle Sam’s generosity is getting us, according to the NIH: “An understanding of women and their tobacco-related issues” as well as the “development of gender-relevant tobacco control efforts.” Wait, there’s more information from the NIH to justify the grant, though it’s unlikely to keep Americans up at night: A “smoking epidemic is rapidly spreading to women in developing countries.”
In Brazil girls are taking up smoking in particularly high numbers, Scarinci tells a university magazine piece celebrating her federal grant. Additionally, it can be hard to convince women in the South American nation of the dangers of smoking and “other risky health behaviors.” The researcher feels a sense of responsibility, saying “I can’t forget where I came from. Twenty years have gone by and their needs haven’t changed. For me, it’s personal.”
At the University of Alabama Scarinci is a preventative medicine expert who specializes in reaching out to “at-risk populations.” As part of her duties she operates several publicly-funded initiatives to promote healthy lifestyles and disease prevention among “Latino immigrants and African Americans in underserved rural communities.” This likely includes illegal aliens.
The Obama administration has made minority health a huge priority and has funded projects accordingly through different federal agencies, including the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) as well as the NIH, which annually doles out north of $31 billion to hundreds of thousands of researchers at thousands of universities and institutions around the globe.
Earlier this year the NIH hired a Chief Officer for Scientific Workforce Diversity as part of a $500 million initiative to boost minority causes in biomedical research and the federal grant process. Under Obama the agency also created a new committee that makes “diversity a core consideration of NIH governance and ensures fairness in the peer review system that erases “unconscious bias related to disparities in research awards.” The plan also implements “implicit bias and diversity awareness training.”
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