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Nearly $1M in funding awarded to improve outreach, COVID-19 testing, for Pacific Islanders in Hawaii

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Nearly $1 million in federal funding has been awarded to the University of Hawaii at Manoa to increase its COVID-19 testing outreach to Pacific Islander communities in Hawaii and Guam.

U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz said the $958,613 award from the National Institutes of Health will go to the Puipuia le Ola project, which improves testing outreach to Pacific Islanders through culturally and linguistically appropriate community engagement.

Although Pacific Islanders only make up 4% of Hawaii’s population, they account for 28% of the state’s COVID-19 infections, according to the state Health Department.

“We need to do more to fight outbreaks in Pacific Islander communities,” said Schatz, a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee. “By ramping up testing and supporting the targeted outreach efforts of local agencies on the ground, we can help stop the spread of the virus. There’s still more work to do, but this federal grant is a good start.”

The UH John A. Burns School of Medicine said many Pacific Islanders also suffer from multiple medical conditions known to increase the risk of having severe COVID-19 symptoms, work in high-risk service jobs, live in multi-generational housing, and lack access to health care.

“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 Dr. Richard Yanagihara, a principal investigator and JABSOM professor.

The project is a partnership between UH Manoa, University of Guam, Kalihi-Palama Health Center, the Native Hawaiian & Pacific Islander COVID-19 Response, Recovery, Resilience Team (COVID 3R), Hawaii Public Housing Authority, Hawaii Affordable Housing, Inc., American Samoa Government, and multiple community-based organizations.

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