Columbia World Projects (CWP) on Friday published a report on its recent COVID-19 Forum and announced the projects proposed at the Forum that CWP is developing and may implement as early as the beginning of 2021.
As the profound global consequences of COVID-19 on virtually every aspect of life became clear this spring, CWP organized a Forum to focus on tackling some of the myriad challenges caused by the pandemic. The projects generated for and refined in the Forum and a subsequent project development phase are expected to launch on a rapid timeline and all aim to have an impact on an aspect of the pandemic within two years.
The projects, described in greater detail below, focus on increasing confidence in and use of vaccines by improving our understanding of vaccine hesitancy; strengthening support for grieving members of the Black community in and around Harlem; and developing digital mental health care services.
The COVID-19 Forum was the seventh Forum held by CWP. Fora bring together experts with a variety of backgrounds from inside and outside the university to identify how Columbia’s unique expertise can help address fundamental challenges. Participants in Fora are asked to generate ideas for projects that would partner Columbia faculty with practitioners in government, nongovernmental and international organizations, the private sector and communities, and have a measurable impact on people’s lives. In addition to naming the projects that are moving forward, the report describes the project proposals that participants prepared for the Forum and the feedback they received during the meeting.
Of the 19 projects proposed at the Forum, three are currently under development with $16,000 grants from CWP and will ultimately be considered for possible implementation:
Vaccines in the Medical Imagination
This project seeks to increase confidence in and use of vaccines by improving the current understanding of vaccine hesitancy using state-of-the-art computational methods and linguistic analysis. When a COVID-19 vaccine is produced and readily available, the efficacy of a vaccination campaign will be undermined if, as current public polls suggest, large segments of the population in the United States choose not to get the vaccine. Without a concerted, evidence-based approach to understanding vaccine hesitancy, there is a risk that such campaigns could fail to resonate with much of the public, prolonging the COVID-19 pandemic and also allowing the resurgence of other long-dormant diseases as people put off other vaccinations. This project would collect a significant database of anti-vaccine rhetoric found in online forums, discussion groups and social media; analyze vaccine hesitancy as a cultural and linguistic phenomenon, so as to better understand root causes and patterns of vaccine hesitancy; and work with leading practitioners in the public and private sectors to propose and implement new ways of presenting vaccines to the public that increase their acceptance and use.
Tools and Connections: Strengthening Support for COVID-19 Bereavement in Black Communities in Harlem
This project aims to increase support for members of the Black community in and around Harlem who are grieving due to COVID-19. Mortality rates due to the pandemic are markedly higher in Black communities in the United States than in the population at large. Pervasive inequities and injustices that disproportionately affect the Black community such as disparities in health care, education and financial resources have increased the stress that the pandemic has placed on the Black population. These challenges exacerbate the Black population’s susceptibility to grief and to health complications that result from grieving. For this project, two centers at the Columbia University School of Social Work – the Center for Complicated Grief and SAFELab – will join together with Mobilizing Preachers and Community (MPAC-NY), a non-profit civil rights and faith-based organization comprised of clergy and community members in Harlem. Together, they will develop, test and roll out digital tools that will help providers of emotional support – including informal providers like friends and community leaders, and formal providers like therapists and clergy members – reach grieving people more effectively, improving the Black community’s overall health.
Digital Mental Health Care for COVID-19 High-Risk Populations
This project will partner with the State of New York through the New York State Psychiatric Institute to develop interactive, video-based interventions that aim to prevent long-term psychiatric problems, improve health and promote the use of mental health services among people at high risk of developing mental health problems as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. The pandemic, unprecedented in its scope and magnitude, is overwhelming mental health care providers’ capacity to provide timely treatment, which is giving rise to a crisis of its own. The standard approach to mental health services – which are largely delivered face-to-face in office settings – is ill-equipped to meet this surge. This project will target people in high-risk groups such as health care and other essential workers, and people who have lost loved ones as a result of COVID-19. The project will generate information that will support New York State Office of Mental Health’s response to the pandemic and help address the need for more mental health crisis services.
Columbia World Projects staff are currently working with each project team to further develop these projects, taking into account recommendations from Forum participants and the CWP Advisory Committee. These revisions include refining project scope and budget and defining major deliverables; creating a precise timeline for implementation; identifying a set of performance indicators for monitoring and evaluation; and choosing key implementing partners. Descriptions of the projects will be synthesized in project design reports. Based on these reports, which are shared with the CWP President’s Council and Columbia President Lee C. Bollinger, a final decision will be made on which projects CWP will implement.