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For decades Nena Peragallo Montano had a special concern for the severity of HIV/AIDS in the Hispanic community and how little attention this was receiving.  This experience led her to develop and test an HIV/AIDS intervention for low-income, inner-city Hispanic women.  This was a first step on a lifelong journey to reduce health disparities among Hispanics and other minorities. Dr. Peragallo Montano brought this commitment to her position as Dean of the University of Miami School of Nursing and Health Studies and shortly after her 2003 arrival she began to envision a first-class research center dedicated to understanding and addressing health disparities, the first of its kind to be housed in a School of Nursing and Health Studies.

To make this a reality, Dean Peragallo Montano brought together a group of researchers that had their own established lines of research on the types of health conditions (i.e., HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted infections, family and intimate partner violence, substance abuse, and related mental health issues) that disproportionately affect minority populations.  Together this team conceptualized a Center of Excellence and sought NIH funding to establish it.

In 2007, Dean Peragallo Montano as Principle Investigator and her team of researchers received funding from the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities to establish the Center of Excellence for Health Disparities Research: El Centro.  During its first five years El Centro developed a research infrastructure, built community and academic alliances, expanded health disparities research training with students from multiple disciplines, and conducted innovative randomized trials and pilot research.  The renewal of the El Centro grant in 2012 for another five-year term is supporting new and ongoing research, training, and community engagement activities.

In this new five year period, El Centro has expanded its priority populations. Whereas El Centro was established to conduct health disparities research focused on Hispanics living in the United States, the current focus has extended to include other groups - African American, Caribbean Americans and sexual minorities - that are also disproportionately affected by the El Centro health foci, who share similar underlying root causes of those conditions, and who are highly represented in South Florida. El Centro also works to promote health capacity-building initiatives with Latin America and the Caribbean region whose people have similar culture, health practices and health problems as the people of South Florida.