The University of Hawaiʻi has received nearly $1 million from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) towards developing and evaluating community engagement strategies meant to help increase COVID-19 testing and to better understand the infection patterns among non-Native Hawaiian Pacific Islanders in Hawaiʻi and Guam. These culturally tailored strategies will be disseminated to the Pacific Islander communities in their native languages.
Across the U.S., Pacific Islanders have among the highest rates of contracting and succumbing to COVID-19. Locally, they represent only 4% of Hawaiʻi’s population, but account for nearly 30% of COVID-19 cases and 20% of all COVID-19 deaths. They also suffer from multiple medical conditions known to increase the risk of having severe COVID-19 symptoms. In addition, many Pacific Islanders tend to have poor access to health care, lack adequate health insurance, live in multi-generational housing and work in service jobs that increase their daily risk exposure. On Guam, COVID-19 cases have spiked among indigenous Chamoru and immigrant Micronesians.
The NIH’s Rapid Acceleration of Diagnostics (RADx) initiative is meant to accelerate the development, commercialization and deployment of innovative technologies for COVID-19 testing. A major component of this initiative is the RADx Underserved Populations (RADx-UP) program, which is focused on identifying factors associated with the disproportionately high infection rates and poor outcomes of COVID-19 in underserved and vulnerable populations, and to reduce disparities in COVID-19 morbidity and mortality in these communities who are most at risk during the pandemic.
The project key personnel from UH include Richard Yanagihara, Angela Sy, Wei-Kung Wang, Tina Tauasosi-Posiulai, Chatura Siriwardhana and Neal Palafox of UH Mānoaʻs John A. Burns School of Medicine (JABSOM), and Kevin D. Cassel of the UH Cancer Center.
“This will be one of the first NIH-supported projects designed to sustain efforts not only for COVID-19 mitigation among Pacific Islanders, but for achieving the capacity and collective partnerships among Pacific Islanders to reach long-term goals of reducing long-standing health disparities,” said JABSOM Professor Yanagihara, principal investigator.
A multidisciplinary effort
Puipuia le Ola, which is Samoan for “protecting life,” represents a transdisciplinary partnership between UH Mānoa, the University of Guam, Kalihi-Palama Health Center, the Native Hawaiian & Pacific Islander COVID-19 Response, Recovery, Resilience Team (COVID 3R), Hawaiʻi Public Housing Authority, Hawaiʻi Affordable Housing, Inc., the American Samoa government and multiple community-based organizations including the Marshallese Community Organization of Hawaiʻi, First Samoan Congregational Christian Church of Honolulu and Pacific Resources for Education and Learning.
“This grant provides a rare, but much-needed opportunity for community-based organizations which serve Pacific Islanders in Hawaiʻi and Guam to have the resources to collaborate in health education and outreach to increase COVID-19 testing uptake,” said JABSOM Assistant Professor Sy.
The multidisciplinary team of scientific researchers, clinicians and Pacific Islander community leaders, all with decades of commitment to progressing the health of this group will provide the expertise for this project—the first of its kind.