A multi-institutional collaboration, including The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth) School of Public Health, has been awarded a $1.3 million training grant from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) to fund the Biosafety and Infectious Disease Training Initiative. The training program was piloted last summer in Houston under the leadership of Dr. Janelle Rios and Dr. Robert J. Emery.
[Photo: Dr. Robert J. Emery and Dr. Janelle Rios]
In addition to UTHealth School of Public Health, the collaboration includes the Indiana University School of Public Health-Bloomington, led by co-principal investigator Dr. Shawn Gibbs; the Nebraska Biocontainment Unit at the University of Nebraska Medical Center, led by co-principal investigator Dr. John Lowe; Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, led by Dr. Paul Biddinger; and Dillard University, led by Dr. Beverly Wright.
“This project builds upon a long-standing and successful relationship between UTHealth partners and the NIEHS,” said Emery, professor in the department of epidemiology, human genetics and environmental sciences at UTHealth School of Public Health and vice president of safety, health, environment and risk management at UTHealth.
The goal of the training initiative is to positively and meaningfully impact the health of communities by providing well-designed, well-delivered and practical hands-on health and safety training to prepare workers and communities for the risks associated with potentially deadly infectious diseases, said Dr. Emery.
The target audience for the program includes workers who generate, label, load, transport, unload, receive, treat, store, analyze or dispose of potentially biohazardous materials; first responders, including emergency medical technicians, law enforcement officers and firefighters; security personnel; wastewater treatment personnel; mortuary and forensic technicians; and custodial staff, especially those working in settings in which biohazards are present.
“The training will specifically target workers who are not typically the recipients of biosafety or infection prevention training,” said Rios, director of the Office of Public Health Practice and Career Service at the School of Public Health. Drs. Rios and Emery are members of the Southwest Center for Occupational and Environmental Health at the School of Public Health.
Ultimately, the group aims to train workers to protect themselves, their colleagues, their communities and the environment from exposure to biohazards through the development and delivery of curricula based on sound scientific methods, including research conducted by the team. At the same time, the initiative will place special emphasis on promoting the health, resiliency and financial stability of workers and their communities.
Previous UTHealth projects funded by NIEHS include the preliminary biosafety project in the summer of 2015 that trained more than 12,000 people and a large, multi-state consortium project in hazardous materials management that is currently in its sixth year.