The COVID-19 epidemic in Hawaiʻi has hit local Pacific Islander communities hardest of all, resulting in an infection rate up to 10 times higher than that of other ethnicities. This disproportionate impact is largely due to the State of Hawaiʻi’s failure to respond appropriately to the cultural, historical, and economic context of Pacific Islanders in Hawaiʻi and engage them as full partners.

In a new analysis, Dr. David Derauf of Kōkua Kalihi Valley, Dr. DeWolfe Miller of the University of Hawaiʻi, and Dr. Tim Brown of the East-West Center lay out a variety of ways that state officials working with Pacific Islander communities can better address this critical need. “Pacific Islander communities in Hawai‘i face unique socio-economic, language, and cultural challenges in coping with COVID-19,” they write. “This makes engaging these communities as equal partners in the response an essential measure to slow virus spread effectively. To date, the state’s response to COVID-19 has largely overlooked them.”

Drawing on years of close work with Pacific Islander communities at Kōkua Kalihi Valley and experiences with the HIV epidemic, they suggest a variety of ways health officials could improve their approach to slowing the virus in Pacific Islander communities. Above all, this hinges on working closely with trusted leaders in each community to develop collaborative, effective, and culturally appropriate outreach efforts for each affected community. These efforts must include financial and social support to exposed families who may not be able or willing to isolate because of economic and other needs.