May 9, 2017
Panagis Galiatsatos, M.D., a pulmonary and critical care fellow at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, studies how environmental exposures and health disparities impact people with lung diseases such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and asthma. He also encourages academic medical community members to engage with residents of Baltimore through a program that integrates health education, policy, and community empowerment to mitigate health disparities. “The biggest concern is knowledge. People often receive a lot of misinformation, so one of our goals is to not only raise awareness, but to help people separate myth from fact,” said Galiatsatos.
Addressing Health Disparities in Baltimore
An extension of the NIEHS/EPA co-funded Center for Childhood Asthma in the Urban Environment , Galiatsatos is conducting research with the Comparing Urban and Rural Effects of Poverty on COPD (CURE COPD) Center at Johns Hopkins University. The research, comparing communities in urban Baltimore and rural Appalachia, aims to examine how the interaction of obesity, diet, and air pollution increase the susceptibility to COPD in low-income homes. Since indoor air pollution has been shown to be higher in low-income households, and because both communities suffer disproportionate prevalence and morbidity from COPD, obesity, and poor diet, the Center is working to understand the complex interactive effects underlying health disparities in these communities.
In Baltimore, Galiatsatos and his team are exploring obesity and dietary patterns as susceptibility factors to pollutant exposure in low-income adults with COPD. In addition, based on the observation that pollutant concentrations are higher in the homes of smokers, they are working to understand how smoking behaviors or attitudes of residents in public housing units, and accessibility of tobacco products contribute to high levels of indoor air pollution.
“One of the primary questions we’re thinking about at the CURE COPD Center is how researchers can provide culturally sensitive findings to stakeholders, promote engagement with community members, and build capacity in environmental health literacy and risk prevention,” said Galiatsatos.
The information collected by the Center will be used to inform practical targeted interventions to improve COPD health in this high-risk population. In addition, the team is involved in a variety of health promotion activities to address the environmental health disparities of indoor air pollution in low income populations. These include educating people about making healthier choices and communicating with local clinical professionals and policy makers to further protect the health of these impacted communities. Galiatsatos is also collaborating with counselors, physicians, and religious leaders to implement community outreach programs that promote good health practices.
Promoting Community Empowerment through Health Education
Galiatsatos is the co-director and co-founder of the medical education partnership Medicine for the Greater Good (MGG), established in 2013 at the Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center.
Aimed at promoting wellness and partnerships beyond the hospital walls, this program creates medical education workshops where MGG volunteers work with schools, churches, and community centers to promote good health practices in the community. The MGG program has completed more than 32 workshops and facilitated over 282 projects that bring health professionals into the community to facilitate discussions about diseases, diet, and exercise, among others. The projects have involved more than 80 medical residents and other students in health professions who worked with over 1000 people in Baltimore communities.
By encouraging physicians to take preventive care to the community and collaborate with local partners, the MGG program is helping to address health disparities in Baltimore. For example, the Caring for a Neighborhood project focuses on access to healthy food, asthma awareness, and mentorship. B’More Asthma Free helps parents overcome barriers to asthma care, and educates families on asthma symptoms, treatments, and environmental factors that can make the disease worse.
Through community engagement, Galiatsatos hopes to use health education to mitigate health disparities in low income populations in Baltimore. Moving forward, Galiatsatos hopes to expand community-based outreach programs like MGG and to use the information acquired from these programs to communicate with decision makers to improve health and address health disparities