Trinbagonian researcher leads global research on COVID-19 and aims to develop mobile and web apps for minorities
News > The Caribbean
By STEM Caribbean | Posted on August 5, 2020
Dr. Michelle King-Okoye is devoted to researching and understanding the effects of diseases on specific groups. Last year she received the Rosemary Pope Award for her groundbreaking research on African Caribbean men with prostate cancer in Trinidad and Tobago.
Today, Dr. King-Okoye is leading two global research projects to understand the effects and the causes for increased mortality rates of COVID-19 and SARS-CoV-2 among the Black, Asian and other minority ethnic groups (BAME) living in developed countries.
In an interview with STEM Caribbean, Dr. King-Okoye explained that there is a lack of research focusing on the factors that contribute to the increasing COVID-19 mortality rates among the BAME communities affected by the pandemic.
“There is currently a dearth of research that has examined underlying reasons for the disparities. The escalating mortality rates caused by COVID-19 among these populations and the dearth of studies conducted with this focus sparked my interest in both projects,” Dr. King-Okoye expressed. “This motivated me to examine the evidence base for studies of this nature.”
With the help of Crowdfight COVID-19— an initiative from the scientific community to put all available resources at the service of the fight against COVID-19— Dr. King-Okoye connected with local and international researchers who shared her vision of understanding and uncovering the barriers towards proper treatment for BAME communities.
The first project is a systematic review, which began in May and is expected to conclude this month. It examines evidence on reported symptoms, help-seeking accounts, and the diagnosis and treatment experiences of the BAME population in developed countries with suspected, confirmed active, or previously active SARS-CoV-2 or COVID-19 cases.
The second project is a wider study that utilizes a mixed-methods approach, involving clinical and socio-demographic surveys, and qualitative research among the BAME population affected by COVID-19. This project is expected to be completed within one year and will require extensive research collaborations, according to Dr. King-Okoye.
“Our work will extend across multiple pandemic stages in developed countries. We intend to capture variations of experiences of BAME communities as well as indigenous populations that have been neglected,” said Dr. King-Okoye. She is currently collaborating with twenty researchers and academics in the United States, Europe, and Australia. She noted that this number is likely to increase as the study progresses. The research team currently involves experts from backgrounds such as public health, health disparities, evidence-based medicine, molecular biology, microbiology, and sociology.
“I am also having conversations with researchers from Australia, including tribal leaders within Canada and USA to include Aboriginal and Torres Straight Islanders and other indigenous populations in the study,” Dr. King-Okoye said. “This unprecedented international study will give a voice to all marginalized and stigmatized communities affected by COVID-19”
One outcome she hopes to achieve with the research projects is the design and development of a web and mobile software application for the BAME population, including indigenous communities in developed countries. The app will provide a safe and transparent platform for reporting concerns and barriers experienced when testing for COVID-19 and concerns with receiving the appropriate treatment. The data collected will enable policy-makers and healthcare leaders to be informed of any barriers currently preventing proper care for COVID-19, which could help in the decision-making process.
“This [the app] will be available to the general public and will be implemented through collaborations with other researchers and app developers,” said Dr. King-Okoye. “I am also exploring other avenues for deprived and marginalised societies to be included in the study, as some may not have access to Internet and computers,” she added.
Although the research team’s focus is currently on the BAME communities in developed countries, Dr. King-Okoye said that “In order to establish comparative analyses, the study will also be extended to people from other races and ethnic backgrounds, including Caribbean regions. This will enable variations in experiences across races, ethnicities, and nationalities to be examined.”
She also noted that “The Caribbean, in particular, has diverse ethnic and cultural representations, which will be significant to our study.”
Dr. King-Okoye would like to acknowledge God as central to her life; her husband, Dr. Steve C. Okoye, for his unwavering support and all the researchers involved in the study.