Diversity Forum Focuses on Reducing Disparities in Childhood Asthma

Tyra Bryant-Stephens, MD, chief health equity officer of the Center for Health Equity at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP), shared her efforts to improve children’s asthma symptoms using community participatory research methodology during this year’s Diversity Forum on Sunday, May 19, at the ATS 2024 International Conference. 

Tyra Bryant-Stephens, MD
Tyra Bryant-Stephens, MD

“I didn’t plan to do research. I wanted to take care of children,” said Dr. Bryant-Stephens. “At CHOP, we saw that most of the kids with asthma who ended up in the emergency room were racial minorities from poorer neighborhoods. Even though we were following the guidelines, our children were still ending up in the hospital. It wasn’t the color of their skin that was making them sick. I knew the problem had to be elsewhere.”

Dr. Bryant-Stephens set out on a decades-long mission to understand the factors contributing to disparities in childhood asthma and the impact of community engagement interventions to reduce those disparities.

She started in West Philadelphia, one of the poorest areas in the country, and expanded into other regions of the city. Dr. Bryant-Stephens stressed that even if two areas of the municipality were nearby geographically, it was important to treat them as distinct populations with unique needs.

Listening to community leaders was key to designing effective community-based interventions. Dr. Bryant-Stephens noted that communities often feel taken advantage of by researchers who start research projects and leave the area without plans for the future once funding has dried up.

Ann-Marcia Tukpah, MD, MPH

“Always listen to the community. Acknowledge that they have expertise that you don’t,” she advised. “We need the community throughout the course of a research project, from design to implementation and evaluation. And when we leave a community, leave it with more than when we came.”

To this end, Dr. Bryant-Stephens started the Community Asthma Prevention Program (CAPP), which provides free asthma education classes to caregivers and children with asthma. CAPP participants learn important lessons about asthma triggers, prevention techniques, and the proper use of medication. Parents and teens in the community are also trained to teach classes to ensure the program remains sustainable.

Other initiatives include home visits by community health care workers to provide tailored asthma education and trigger reduction in high-risk children and engaging school nurses to identify students who may have asthma. One of the most ambitious programs is CAPP+, which launched in 2018. The program supports structural repairs, such as fixing leaky plumbing and replacing old flooring to address the root causes of asthma triggers in people’s homes.

Dr. Bryant-Stephens ultimately showed that engaging home, school, community resources, and the health care system can lead to positive synergistic effects on reducing the burden of asthma management for families.

The forum closed with the presentation of two annual awards. Ann-Marcia Tukpah, MD, MPH, from Brigham and Women’s Hospital, received the 2024 Health Equity Fellowship for early career members for her project to identify risk factors associated with system sclerosis interstitial lung disease. In addition, several trainees were awarded the Underrepresented Trainee Development Scholarship.

The ATS thanks Johnson & Johnson for its support of the Diversity Forum.

Don’t Miss ATS 2024 Highlights: On Demand

Don’t forget that ATS 2024 Highlights: On Demand are available to all conference registrants! On Demand will give you access to the Opening Ceremony, Plenary Session, Keynote Series, Clinical Year in Review, Adult Clinical Core Curriculum, and so much more. The topics will cover ILD, asthma, health equity, and CF, to name just a few. On Demand content will be accessible to all ATS 2024 full conference and On Demand registrants until March 2025.