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Experts discuss health disparities, social justice in Chicago

DePaul University hosts conference for public health professionals

Fernando De Maio
Fernando De Maio, co-director of the Center for Community Health Equity, presents at the 2016 Health Disparities and Social Justice Conference. DePaul researchers presenting at the 2017 conference are available to discuss their research on lead contamination, intravenous drug use and other public health topics. (DePaul University/Jamie Moncrief)
CHICAGO — Public health researchers at DePaul University are using health fairs to fight lead poisoning and photo exhibitions to lessen the stigma against injection drug users. They will discuss their efforts Aug. 8 during a health disparities and social justice conference on DePaul’s Loop Campus.

The conference is presented by DePaul’s Master of Public Health program and the Center for Community Health Equity, a collaboration between DePaul and Rush University that seeks to improve health outcomes and contribute to the elimination of health inequities in Chicago. This year’s conference will focus on work being done by government agencies, community organizations, health care systems and universities in the context of today’s political climate. Experts from DePaul University will present research on these topics at the conference: 

Testing for lead in Chicago’s backyard
“Lead contamination is ubiquitous in Chicago, and low-income communities of color bear the brunt of the contamination,” said Julia Lippert, clinical assistant professor of public health. Lippert and James Montgomery, associate professor of environmental science, will discuss the community health fair model they piloted while testing for lead in the Austin neighborhood of Chicago. Research assistant Camille DeMarco will also present findings from the pilot. Community members brought soil and water samples from their homes and yards, and DePaul environmental scientists tested the samples at the fair. “The results of this fair suggest the need for a comprehensive investigation of lead contamination in the soil and water in additional Chicago communities,” said Montgomery, who regularly performs soil testing for free through his “What’s In Your Soil?” project. Lippert can be reached at or 312-362-0208. Montgomery can be reached at or 773-325-2771.

Photovoice exhibit features work by injection drug users in Chicago
Suzanne Carlberg-Racich, assistant professor of public health, will present research and a photography exhibit created by people who inject drugs in Chicago communities. The project used the Photovoice method, which gives community members a process for documenting their experiences through photography. “There is often open and volatile stigma toward people who inject drugs,” said Carlberg-Racich. “We should be doing as much as we can to engage the community in research, and the Photovoice research methodology provides an interesting, safer avenue for injection drug users to participate in advocacy,” she added. Carlberg-Racich can be reached at or 312-362-1003.

Using GIS to map the future of health research
Geography professor Euan Hague will hold a skill-building workshop to introduce public health professionals to the world of Geographic Information Systems and describe the role of maps to better understand the unequal social determinants of health. “Geographic Information Systems mapping technology in health research and analysis is a rapidly growing field,” said Hague. “From the famous maps of cholera in 19th century London, to modern efforts to control the spread of the Ebola virus in West Africa, the role of maps in public health is critical.” Hague explained that GIS can “provide a wide range of demographic data in a cartographic context, from epidemiology to developing individual recovery plans for patients with reduced mobility.” Hague can be reached at or 773-325-7890.

Establishing a system for effective program evaluation and organizational learning
Budgets for evaluating programs can be tight, according to Dan Schober, clinical assistant professor of public health. Schober will describe ways health and social service professionals can evaluate community health programs and demonstrate progress. “Health and social service professionals are expected to show that their community health programs are achieving outcomes,” said Schober. He will describe lessons learned from two evaluation systems being used in urban settings in Illinois. Schober can be reached at or 312-362-7313.

This marks the 10th year that DePaul University has offered the health disparities and social justice conference. The keynote speaker is Dr. Evan Lyon, chief integrated health officer at Heartland Alliance. He will discuss issues of health and human rights in Chicago and beyond. More information is available at


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Kristin Claes Mathews