Posted on January 3, 2022 by Amanda Cerreto

This article originally appeared in UTSA Today by Ingrid Wright.

JANUARY 3, 2022 — Professor Erica Sosa is leading a team of researchers from The University of Texas at San Antonio in a new health literacy initiative. The project, funded by a $4 million grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), aims to stem the tide of COVID-19 infection among minority and underserved residents of San Antonio and Bexar County.

Working in collaboration with the San Antonio Metropolitan Health District and UT Health San Antonio, Sosa will co-develop a plan to increase the availability, acceptability and use of vital information and services by Latinos and African Americans living in 22 local priority zip codes to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.

"We are in a unique time when community members want information to make health decisions, but are overwhelmed with conflicting messages."

Erica Sosa "Focusing efforts on underserved and minority communities is critical because they are not only at higher risk of COVID-19, but they are also more likely to be exposed to misinformation related to COVID-19. We are happy to play a role in assisting Metro Health to measure the impacts of this project," said Sosa, associate dean for research and an associate professor of public health in the UTSA College for Health, Community and Policy.

The study highlights UTSA's commitment to forging strong research collaborations and HCaP's mission of conducting research and drafting policy to tackle societal issues and improve human health.

The HHS awarded $250 million to 73 local governments as part of a new, two-year initiative to enhance COVID-19 vaccinations and other mitigation practices among underserved populations. The City of San Antonio and Dallas County were the only Texas governments to receive the grant.

Sosa will work with the COVID-19 Community Response and Equity Coalition to advance the program. The coalition was founded in 2020 in response to the toll that the pandemic has taken on San Antonio, especially Latinos. Coalition members UTSA, UT Health San Antonio and San Antonio Metro Health are part of the coalition's Community and Stakeholder Advisory Committee, which is working to provide preventive health services to residents of color.

Metro Health will have administrative and fiduciary oversight of the program. UTSA will lead the quality improvement and project evaluation. UT Health San Antonio will co-lead the development of the health literacy plan with UTSA.

The joint project is named Health Confianza to convey what the health organizations aim to achieve: trust and confidence in health information and services throughout marginalized communities. The UTSA team will be measuring multiple indicators including, but not limited to, vaccine rates, vaccine confidence, COVID-19 preventive behaviors and health literacy in the target zip codes to see if the Health Confianza strategies lead to improved outcomes.

Sosa says the health literacy initiative is key to improving the public's understanding of COVID-19.

“We are in a unique time when community members want information to make health decisions, but are overwhelmed with conflicting messages,” Sosa concluded. “We have an opportunity and responsibility to make sure community members are able to access scientifically accurate and culturally appropriate information to make the best decisions for COVID-19 and also in future health decisions.”

— Amanda Cerreto