News Center for Human Rights, Gender & Migration

Collaborator Spotlight! Christopher Prater

Center for Human Rights, Gender and Migration

Christopher Prater, MD, MPH

Assistant Professor in Medicine and Pediatrics
Washington University School of Medicine
Division of General Medicine
Affinia Healthcare
TB Physician, City of St. Louis Department of Health
Faculty Scholar, Institute for Public Health

Bio: Dr. Prater is a primary care physician trained in internal medicine and pediatrics with a focus on immigrant and refugee populations. His interests include community models for the treatment of tuberculosis, quality of refugee and immigrant healthcare delivery, and innovative roles of community health workers.

Tell us about your work related to human rights, gender and migration.

I am a primary care physician trained and certified in internal medicine and pediatrics. I have been working with refugee and immigrant populations for more than five years. Clinically, I perform domestic medical exams for newly-arrived refugees and then follow these families longitudinally in primary care. More than 50% of my patients speak a language other than English. I see these patients at Affinia Healthcare, a federally-qualified health center in St. Louis.

In addition to clinical work, I have worked on several research projects to improve health disparities in refugee and immigrant populations. Currently, I am collaborating with a community group called Vitendo 4 Africa to deliver home education sessions to improve tuberculosis knowledge, awareness, and screening in the African community. In addition, I am interested in maternal and child outcomes related to race and ethnicity, and have been awarded funding to study this through the Foundation at Barnes-Jewish Hospital.

How did you get started in this work?

I first became interested in refugee populations when I lived and volunteered in Buduburam refugee camp in Ghana in 2005. Working with a local group, I participated in HIV outreach and education within the camp to help the Liberian population understand this disease. I sought formal training in global health via a global health certificate in residency at Christiana Care Health System in Delaware, as well as a certificate during my Masters of Public Health at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. Since completing my training in 2014 I have worked clinically with refugee and immigrant populations in community health centers, first in Baltimore, MD, and now in St. Louis.

How has your work with immigrant and refugee communities changed since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic?

Clinically, little has changed other than adopting more telehealth into practice. This becomes a technologic and logistics challenge in patients requiring interpreters. Specifically, video appointments are limited by access to reliable internet connectivity.

I have been awed by the community response among immigrant service groups in the St. Louis area. Many of the individual organizations that make up the Immigrant Service Provider Network (ISPN) have worked tirelessly to advocate for these vulnerable populations among a pandemic. Though most of the work is performed by individuals and leaders of these organizations, I have been glad to help where I can in workgroups. In addition, I am part of a multi-disciplinary group of Wash U faculty and researchers who secured Institute for Public Health funding to support ISPN collect important data of COVID’s effect on many aspects of the immigrant community.

What is one myth / misconception most people have about the issue you work on?

From a population standpoint, I am not sure the general public understands the life of a refugee in the United States. Contrary to other countries that participate in resettlement, refugees in the United States are supported financially for only three months, and are then responsible for supporting themselves. They are very hard-working, often holding more than one job, and often working second and third shifts to support themselves and their families.

Tell us about one connection between research, policy, and practice that you have seen in your work.

In a recent project analyzing the efficacy of latent tuberculosis treatment in an immigrant population in Baltimore, our study team discovered simple solutions to improve the care of a large portion of patients with tuberculosis in the city. We were able to relay our findings to the collaborating health center and health department, and served as liaison to make changes in the clinical protocol between the public and private sectors related to TB care.

What would be your dream project or collaboration, and why?

I would like to see more community health worker (CHW) projects funded. Culturally-congruent CHWs can be instrumental in improving health disparities in various areas, including mental health, birth outcomes, women’s cancer screening, control of hypertension and diabetes, among others. Large-funded projects could build evidence to change the manner in which insurance companies are structured. Though CHWs are expensive, their integration into the health system lowers health care costs, and thus their roles should be widely supported by insurances.

About Spotlights: The Center for Human Rights, Gender and Migration publishes a monthly Spotlight Series where you can meet Washington University faculty and students, as well as outside experts, practitioners, and policymakers working at the intersection of human rights, gender, and migration issues. To read more, return to the Featured Collaborators page.

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