Explainer: We need to talk more about the disparities affecting AANHPI communities

The pandemic revealed deep rooted barriers to health for minority communities in the U.S. In addition to these challenges, Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander communities faced a wave of discrimination related to their race and ethnicity. Associate professor Zhuo “Adam” Chen has been part of a team investigating the ways that public health can work to support these communities.

Informed by this work, Chen co-authored an editorial on the critical role of community engagement to overcome barriers to health among Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander communities in a special issue of Health Equity, and he was on hand to share some of the key findings and insights from this article.

Can you explain some of the impacts of COVID-19 on the AA, NH, and PI communities, specifically with respect to health disparities?

COVID-19 has had a disproportionate burden on disadvantaged populations and frontline workers, and for the AA, NH, and PI communities in particular. AANHPIs account for more than 20% of physicians and surgeons and 9% of nurses in the United States. They have endured dramatic increases in workload and a heightened risk of COVID-19 infections. While the rate of COVID-19 infection has been lower in the AANHPI communities in general, AANHPI tends to have more severe complications from COVID-19.

In addition, AANHPI communities have faced hate crimes and discrimination during the pandemic. In the Health, Ethnicity, and Pandemic (HEAP) survey, we found 19% non-Hispanic Asian and Black respondents said yes, followed by 15% among Hispanics, versus 3% among non-Hispanic Whites reported that they had been discriminated or unfairly treated during COVID-19 because of their racial/ethnic background.

What did the Health, Ethnicity, and Pandemic (HEAP) Georgia study reveal about the impacts of the pandemic on these communities living in Georgia?

Our analysis of HEAP Georgia is ongoing. We did find that Korean Americans experience the highest level of COVID-19 related discrimination. In general, our results affirm that health disparities are linked with social, economic, and environmental disadvantages, and these disparities greatly affect the AANHPI community in Georgia especially as this community has systematically experienced greater obstacles to healthcare access.

What are some ways to combat these health disparities?

Raising awareness both within and outside of the AANHPI communities. It is critical for policymakers and the public to know about and to understand the health disparities experienced by the AANHPI communities – often touted as the “model minority” and thus lose out in policy discussions related to health disparities. They also need to appreciate the diversity within the AANHPI communities, in terms of both culture, ethnicity, and economic status. Treating everyone in the AANHPI as the same will only reinforce the stereotypes about AANHPI and miss important opportunities to help the disadvantaged populations within the AANHPI communities.

How will community engagement help with these health disparities? Why is it the key to promoting AA, NH, and PI health?

AANHPI consists of diverse communities with different languages, cultures, and social norms. The AANHPI communities are vibrant and full of creativity, but in the meantime, they are fragmented, with language barriers and lack of social support for pockets of the communities. Community engagement is key to understanding the challenges for AANHPI communities, and is key to overcoming language barriers and to strengthen social support for the disadvantaged.

What can community engagement look like to work on these issues?

Community engagement entails a wide range of activities. Examples include working with communities to identify key challenges and potential interventions to address those challenges. Community engagement could also include efforts to mobilize community resources to address the challenges.

What is the role of researchers when looking at these issues? Engage with the community, get information out to the public, other roles?

Engaging with the community and getting information out are great examples. Researchers need to assess the needs of the community, work with the community to identify solutions, as well as presenting the information to the public and policymakers. Researchers also need to engage our own community to facilitate exchange of scholarship and efficient use of resources. Since some groups of the AANHPI are of a very small population, coordinating research efforts could be more cost-effective.

How can people get involved to help with these issues?

People can get involved to help in many ways. As CPH motto indicated, we need to “pursue understanding”. The AANHPI is an integral part of the American community – they have their fair share of contributions in American society, including but not limited to the continental railway, the diverse cuisine satisfying your taste bud, medicine, and science. For example, the Committee of 100, a prominent Chinese American community organization, is working on a series of white papers to highlight Asian American contributions to science, technology, and medicine.

Story produced by Chancey Phillips.

Posted on October 31, 2022.