woman smiling
Misty Pacheco.

Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders are in the top three ethnicities with the highest rates of HIV diagnoses in the country according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In response to the alarming rates, University of Hawaiʻi at Hilo Associate Professor Misty Pacheco has begun researching health disparities experienced by Hawaiʻi Island HIV/AIDS patients.

“Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders, behind African-Americans, behind Hispanics, have the third-highest rate for HIV diagnoses, even though we are such a small population,” said Pacheco.

Pacheco’s research primarily looks at the disparities or differences in experiences that HIV/AIDS-diagnosed Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders living in Hawaiʻi have in comparison to other ethnicities living elsewhere in the country.

“I am specifically looking at the satisfaction with the care they receive, and viral suppression, which basically means they have control of their disease, they are on [effective] medication and regularly seeing a provider,” said Pacheco. “I’m looking to see, with those two outcomes, does it differ with Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders [from] all other race groups?”

UH Hilo students have contributed to HIV/AIDS research through gathering background information. “I usually recruit students to do things that I’ve introduced in my classes [such as] where they can gather evidence-based data,” said Pacheco.

Through community-based research, Pacheco hopes to further develop programs and interventions for the Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander HIV/AIDS population in a culturally effective way.

“If it comes from the community, and they identify their needs and priorities and the best way in addressing them, it will be more accepted by them. Whatever intervention or program that comes out of that, will be more sustainable,” said Pacheco. “Empowering the community and building that capacity through community-based research projects is the greatest benefit. Not only do they learn but they take ownership of what’s in their community.”

Read the full story at UH Hilo Stories.

—A UH Hilo Stories article written by Alyssa Mathews, a freshman at the University of Hawai‘i at Hilo