African American women are at especially high risk for developing type 2 diabetes, and the Bristol-Myers Squibb Foundation (BMSF) wants to make their health a priority. In November 2010, the big pharma giant announced a special focus within its Together on Diabetes initiative: It wanted to receive proposals regarding ways to advocate for diabetes prevention and treatment within the African American community — especially for women.
In the first wave of this new focus, BMSF awarded five two-year, $300,000 grants. Where did the money go? Most of it went to southern universities and health centers — which makes a lot of sense, really. If you want to help African Americans, you have to go where the population density is highest, and that's in the South. United Neighborhood Health Services in Nashville, Tennessee, received a grant to implement a comprehensive diabetes-management program that includes a physical activity component. East Carolina University received a grant to move along its "small changes" program, which is aimed at making health-related improvements in four rural North Carolina towns where the diabetes rate among African American women is almost triple that of white women.
But not all of BMSF's funded projects were in the South. In the District of Columbia, the Black Women's Health Imperative received a grant to provide diabetes self-management and social support to African American women age 40 and over living in three of the city's wards. And in Boston, the Whittier Street Health Center received a grant to connect African American women living in public housing with diabetes management and education, including dietary counseling and physical activity programming.
Though this initiative was undertaken in 2010, it seems the emphasis on African Americans is a permanent fixture at BMSF. A Black Caucus Spring Health Summit was held in 2013, and many recent grants in the Together on Diabetes program focus on the health-care disparities that influence African American communities throughout the country.
This focus on African American women only serves to underline the foundation's priorities: It likes to fund community-based programs that seek to benefit underserved populations — populations that really need the help. Therefore, the initiatives BMSF supports are likely to be more of a public health stripe, and more likely to feature community advocates in neighborhood health centers than doctoral candidates working in secluded laboratories.