State health officials say a $24.5 million grant from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will help boost efforts to address COVID-19 health disparities among underserved communities.
Lola Irvin, administrator of the state Health Department’s Chronic Disease Prevention &Health Promotion Division, said a bulk of the funding will aid rural health centers and communities with outreach and vaccination efforts. DOH’s Office of Primary Care and Rural Health will also forge a partnership with the Hawaii State Public Library System to improve and expand telehealth services in rural areas.
Data has shown that certain communities, including Native Hawaiians, Pacific Islanders and Filipinos, have higher COVID-19 infection rates but are less likely to be vaccinated than other ethnic groups in the state.
The announcement Wednesday came just two days after DOH released data confirming socioeconomic disparities remain top barriers to vaccine access, particularly among Native Hawaiians, Filipinos and those living in lower-income households. Community organizations and nonprofits have stepped up to support and advocate for themselves by holding vaccine clinics, finding volunteers who speak the language and diversifying messaging by featuring familiar faces.
The state Health Department plans to add more positions to its Office of Health Equity, as well as focus on hiring people who live and reflect the communities they serve. Additional funds will also help fund DOH’s Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander Outbreak Response Team, which works with community nonprofits and leaders to encourage getting vaccinated.
CDC’s funding is part of a $2.25 billion investment, the largest of its kind to date, that seeks to address and improve health equity across the country over the next two years. DOH is among 107 local and state agencies that received funding through the federal Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act.
Grants are intended to reduce the pandemic’s health disparities, increase testing and contact tracing to higher-risk and underserved populations, and beef up local and state health department services to prevent and control infection rates.
The CDC has appropriated nearly $278.2 million in COVID-19 funding to Hawaii.
Jayna Omaye covers ethnic and cultural affairs and is a corps member with Report for America, a national service organization that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues and communities.