HAGATNA (PACIFIC DAILY NEWS) — A new federal grant of nearly US$1 million will help increase COVID-19 testing among Pacific Islanders in Guam and Hawaii and seek to reveal infection patterns in those populations.
The University of Guam is one of several partners in the Puipuia le Ola project of the University of Hawaii, funded by the National Institutes of Health. The project will develop and evaluate culturally tailored community engagement strategies to be disseminated in the native languages of Pacific Islander communities.
“There is a disparity in how COVID-19 is impacting Pacific Islanders, and this grant allows community-based organisations to focus on this group and reduce the infection and mortality rate through health education and outreach,” said Rachael Leon Guerrero, vice provost of research and sponsored programmes at the University of Guam.
Pacific Islanders are defined in the project as indigenous people having origins in Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands, American Samoa, the Federated States of Micronesia, the Marshall Islands and Palau.
On Guam, residents originating from other islands in Micronesia comprise 7% of the island’s population but account for 14% of COVID-19 cases. In Hawaii, Pacific Islanders comprise 4% of the state’s population but account for nearly 30% of COVID-19 cases and 20% of all COVID-19 deaths.
Pacific Islanders suffer from certain medical co-morbidities known to increase the risk of having severe COVID-19 symptoms, according to the John A. Burns School of Medicine at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa.
A Rapid Engagement Team, comprised of employees from the Department of Public Health and Social Services, Department of Public Works, Guam Homeland Security/Office of Civil Defence and others, coordinate their efforts and resources to conduct free COVID-19 testing for the residents living in the Gill Baza and Zero Down subdivisions in Yigo on Thursday, 15 October, 2020.
They also tend to have poor access to health care, lack adequate health insurance, live in multi-generational or overcrowded housing, and work in service jobs that increase their daily risk of exposure.
“This will be one of the first NIH-supported projects designed to sustain efforts not only for COVID-19 mitigation among Pacific Islanders, but also for achieving the capacity and collective partnerships among Pacific Islanders to reach long-term goals of reducing long-standing health disparities,” said Richard Yanagihara, Ph.D., a professor at the John A. Burns School of Medicine and one of the principal investigators.
The work on Guam will be led by Teofila P. Cruz, a post-doctoral researcher with the Research Corporation of the University of Guam.
The grant is part of the National Institutes of Health’s Rapid Acceleration of Diagnostics initiative, which accelerates innovative technologies for COVID-19 testing.
A major component of the initiative is the RADx Underserved Populations programme, 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 reducing related morbidity and mortality rates….. PACNEWS

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