The life expectancy for Native Hawaiians is 13 years less compared to the residents of Hawaiʻi who have the greatest life expectancy in the state.
“Thirteen years, if you think about it. That’s almost a lifetime especially when you are looking at young children,” said Maile Taualii, an assistant professor in public health at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa. “That 13 years less of life is just an unacceptable gap that we need to address.”
Recognizing that need, UH Mānoa is now offering a new master’s degree in public health specializing in Native Hawaiian and indigenous health. The first of its kind in the world.
“Programs like this will help people to start to ask those questions of how they can do that better,” said Taualii, who helped create and is the chair of the new program.
At an event announcing the official launch, UH Mānoa administrators from the Office of Public Health Studies and the John A. Burns School of Medicine celebrated the fact that the new graduate degree will create a new generation of leaders in indigenous health. These leaders are expected to address health disparities, work with policy makers and create programs and services at the community level. The first graduates could come as early as 2014 and students entering the program are anxious to make a difference.
“I feel very strongly about helping, especially within the Native Hawaiian community, to be able to advocate for their health and disparities because they have been silenced for so long,” said Ashley Morisako, a UH Mānoa graduate student who is one of the program’s first four students.
The statistics are staggering. The infant mortality rate for Native Hawaiians is twice that of the general population. The health disparities suffered by Hawaiians are mirrored by global indigenous populations, which total about 325 million people or 6 percent of the world’s population.
“Our work helps to create visibility by teaching scholars how to measure those health statistics that aren’t necessarily going to come up in the broader numbers,” said Taualii.
It will take time but the ultimate goal is to create a world where health inequalities for the future generations of Native Hawaiians and all indigenous people are a thing of the past.