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URMC Gets $1.9M Grant to Combat Smoking in Dominican Republic

Researchers Launch Project to Build Programs to Cut Smoking, Disease

Thursday, September 26, 2002

Smoking researchers at the University of Rochester Medical Center received a $1.9 million grant from the National Institutes of Health to launch a five-year study to reduce smoking in the Dominican Republic.

A multidisciplinary team from the University of Rochester and James P. Wilmot Cancer Center will work with Dominican Republic leaders to assess attitudes about tobacco use, train healthcare workers to help their patients stop smoking, and provide culturally appropriate, sustainable local interventions for smoking cessation.

“The key to this project is that we’ve been through this in the United States. We know the tobacco epidemic very well,” said Deborah Ossip-Klein, Ph.D., associate professor of Community and Preventive Medicine and Oncology, chief of the Division of Social and Behavioral Medicine, and director of its Smoking Research Program. “Now, low and middle-income countries are experiencing the shift from chronic diseases to tobacco-related diseases and we will work to help these countries as they struggle with how to address this problem.”

The NIH, through the Fogarty International Center, developed the International Tobacco and Health Research and Capacity Building Program to help reduce smoking and its related health problems. It is funding more than $20 million in projects to foster international partnerships to support research and prevention efforts around the world.

“Smoking represents one of the greatest challenges to health, both in the United States and worldwide,” said Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy G. Thompson. “This new NIH program supports critically needed research and training to identify ways to prevent or reduce smoking rates worldwide, especially in the developing world.”

Dominican Republic leaders have seen smoking rates skyrocket in the past three decades and studies indicate it has one of the highest smoking rates in Latin America. Researchers estimate that up to two-thirds of all men smoke and the number of women smoking is on the rise, many of them during pregnancy. The Dominican health experts have seen cancer and cardiovascular disease rising, with no peak in sight, said Ossip-Klein, principal investigator for the study.

More than a dozen researchers will collaborate with Dominican Republic leaders, doctors and educators to understand the cultural perceptions and attitudes about smoking, teach people about the dangers of smoking, offer cessation interventions, and develop a model that could be used in other countries.

“These are pioneering projects,” said Ossip-Klein. “We’ll be forging the path for how to best create these partnerships and work together to help reduce smoking. We believe the key is a multidisciplinary team – behaviorists, anthropologists, epidemiologists, physicians, and futurists – working with the local communities to create something that will work in the Dominican Republic and ultimately other countries globally.”

She is working closely with Sergio Diaz, M.D., from the Dominican Republic; Scott McIntosh, Ph.D., assistant professor and assistant director of the Smoking Research Program in Community and Preventive Medicine and the Wilmot Cancer Center; Tim Dye, Ph.D., chief of the Division of Public Health Practice, Community and Preventive Medicine; Ann Dozier, R.N., Ph.D., associate director of the Division of Public Health Practice, Community and Preventive Medicine; Nancy Chin, Ph.D., assistant professor in Division of Public Health Practice; and Susan Fisher, Ph.D., chief of epidemiology, Department of Community and Preventive Medicine.

The project builds on the use of the LINCOS system (Little Intelligent Communities), which was developed as a joint academic and corporate effort by the Costa Rican Foundation for Sustainable Development, University of Rochester’s Center for Future Health, Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Media Lab, Technological Institute of Costa Rica, Microsoft, Hewlett Packard, and Intel.

LINCOS was designed is to bring the digital age to developing countries’ disadvantaged rural and urban areas, providing access to technology, information and communication previously unavailable, to open up economic opportunities, monitor and adopt environmental quality measures, and improve access to health information and care. Each LINCOS container provides a computer science laboratory, telemedicine unit, videoconference and information centers, and electronic mail and news, along with six computers with current office suite and game software, printer and fax machines, VCR/DVD and television monitor, health exam area, and telephones for rural communities lacking this service.

“The first year will be a very careful qualitative and quantitative assessment of the country’s tobacco use landscape. We will listen to people in all levels of society tell about their beliefs and experiences related to tobacco,” Ossip-Klein said. “Then we’ll work with our in-country partners to build systems to implement education and cessation efforts for smokers.”


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