Adequate representation of Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders (NHPI) is in high demand in health care, especially as the long-term prevalence of COVID epidemic continues to rise, according to Native Hawaiian oncologist Kekoa Taparra, MD, PhD.
Paka Ola Lokahi, a non-profit focused on improving Native Hawaiian health, recently hosted a webinar where Taparra spoke about the history of modern health inequalities in Pacific Islander communities, and ways to resolve future conflicts.
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Prior to meeting in the Western Hemisphere, the Pacific Islander regions had a wide range of health practices in the region, including a focus on coherence with nature and a comprehensive treatment plan. Eventually exposure to Western society led to diseases such as gonorrhea, syphilis, and tuberculosis that devastated the population. By 1900, Taparra said that over 95% of the population of Hawaii had been displaced, resulting in the genetically engineered bottlenecks that continue to plague modern health.
Joining the war across the Pacific not only led to racial discrimination and the loss of national and cultural values for the Pacific Islanders, Taparra said, but it also affected their health.
“The physical effects of the radioiodine drop have occurred since the nuclear bomb test was associated with increased risks of certain cancers,” he said. “This also leads to generations of people who are more resistant to radiation [treatment] … because of the perception of radiation as harmful substances. As a doctor, it can be difficult to tell people from that.”
In addition to the increased risk of other cancers, Taparra noted Pacific Islanders also have significantly higher rates of obesity, infant mortality, and shorter life expectancy.
This imbalance is also associated with COVID as well. Explaining the March 2021 survey from the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research, 18 of the 20 declaration states declared the Native Hawaiians and the Pacific Islands as the highest ethnic group in the world.
Accordingly, Taparra said less attention is being paid to this issue, due to the practice of capturing NHPI by Asians, which could close the conflict.
“If we do not have a representative in clinical trials, it is worrying whether the data is working for the patients we are trying to treat,” he said.
On the issue of what health professionals can do to address these inequalities, Taparra recommends further experiments recognizing the practice that separates NHPI data as its separate group. He also advocated for greater NHPI representation in health workers, particularly by strengthening union funding or scholarship programs for those seeking to enter the workforce.
Taparra also noted the ongoing change in the Native Hawaiian diaspora across the US. They said the 2020 Census had for the first time shown more Native Hawaiians showing that they are living on the coast than in Hawaii, due to rising living costs and stagnant wages. To support those living on the continent, Taparra encouraged local support groups to consider how to better distribute their assets to those living in the mainland.