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Health Officials Knew COVID-19 Would Hit Pacific Islanders Hard - Honolulu Civil Beat; 8/17/2020

BARHII is proud to have contributed to an article published in the August 17, 2020 edition of the Honolulu Civil Beat.

Several states are working to include Pacific Islander community leaders in pandemic emergency response. This article examines disparities for Pacific Islanders and proposes actions toward getting to equity.

Key quotes from the article include:

“Melissa Jones, the executive director of the Bay Area Regional Health Inequities Initiative, says that having emergency response staffers who are tasked with addressing health equity is critical. Her organization just released a new report highlighting best practices for addressing health disparities in pandemic response teams.”

“Emergency response operations are often very centralized, Jones says, and there needs to be someone in the decision-making room who understands the needs of different communities. ‘The only way you know that is if you have a health equity officer whose whole job is to focus on what different communities need who are most impacted and to develop the strategies that are going to work for them,’ she said.”

“The Bay Area Regional Health Inequities Initiative launched in 2002 after several public health department heads banded together and pushed for revamping public health programs to better address social inequities. The idea is that good health is ultimately dependent on social causes — access to stable housing, quality food and education, and other factors known as the social determinants of health. The concept of health equity is that everyone deserves the opportunity for good health, but not everyone is starting from the same place. Some groups are at a disadvantage due to historical injustices. The Bay Area group advocates for better policies regarding health disparities and helps health departments build capacity to fix them. The movement isn’t limited to the Bay Area; over the past decade, more states including Kentucky and Virginia have been creating health equity divisions within health departments.”

“Jones from the Bay Area health organization analyzed pandemic responses nationally and found health departments in California, Washington and Kentucky were better equipped to respond to racial disparities in the pandemic because of existing staff dedicated to addressing them. Jones says that in San Francisco, having health equity-focused staffers enabled the city to more quickly identify virus hotspots and set up a housing program to isolate sick people. In Seattle-King County the public health department set up a Pandemic Community Advisory Group to ensure the communities who were most likely to be affected by COVID-19 were involved in the response. That enabled the county to better get out messages about wearing masks and social distancing through trusted community leaders, Jones said.”

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