In 2000, Kamal Eldeirawi, PhD, RN, a pioneering scientist with expertise in immigrant health, became director of a state-sponsored asthma project in Chicago. For the job, he drove to more than 40 of the city’s public schools, where he screened children for asthma and respiratory conditions, provided education to children with asthma and their families, and trained school teachers and staff on how to control the disease.
His forays throughout the city led to a deep understanding of the difficulties low-income parents—and immigrant parents in particular—experienced accessing adequate health care for their children. New immigrants, he observed, faced almost insurmountable challenges. Many lived in fear of deportation and in social isolation, without support from family and friends, and few had access to social support services.
The experience resonated with Eldeirawi, an immigrant who was born in the Gaza Strip in Palestine, and spurred him to research immigrant health. “I was touched by those challenges, especially in newly arriving immigrant families,” he said.
Eldeirawi’s interest in nursing dates back to his childhood, where he saw the profound impact of poverty and disadvantage on health in his own community. After earning a bachelor’s degree in Palestine, Eldeirawi enrolled in a master’s-level nursing program in Pennsylvania. In 2006, he earned his doctorate in public health from the University of Illinois at Chicago, where he wrote his dissertation on asthma in children of Mexican descent.
Now an assistant professor in the College of Nursing at the University of Illinois at Chicago, Eldeirawi is continuing his research into asthma, a condition that affects around 40 million people in the United States. About 12 percent of Mexican American children have asthma, and Eldeirawi is researching risk factors that contribute to the condition in this under-studied group.
For his work, he pioneered an area of research on the effect of immigration and acculturation on asthma and respiratory health in Mexican American children, documenting that asthma rates increase with immigration and acculturation. Eldeirawi says some Mexican immigrants may have been exposed to protective factors in utero or in early childhood before moving to the United States. But this protection seems to fade away while living in the United States and being exposed to different environmental and lifestyle factors, he says.
Now a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) Nurse Faculty Scholar (2013-2016), he is delving deeper into his initial findings to prevent asthma and reduce asthma-related disparities in Mexican American children—and perhaps in other populations too.
“I want to uncover the causes of asthma and design studies to treat and prevent this disease, not only in the United States but globally as well,” he says.