May 11, 2020

COVID-19 Hits Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander Communities the Hardest

J. Kaholokula, R. Samoa, R. Miyamoto, N. Palafox, S. Daniels

Hawaii Journal of Health & Social Welfare

Abstract:The United Nations warned that the corona virus disease 2019 ( COVID-19) pandemic would disproportionately impact Indig­enous peoples across the world because of underlying health inequities and social determinants of health ( eg, crowded living conditions and poor access to healthcare) that place them at a greater risk for infection and severe symptoms if infected. 1 In the United States (US), public health officials also expected this novel virus to infect Indigenous communities, such as American Indians and Alaska Natives, at a higher rate.2 The rates of COVID-19 positive cases among members of the Navajo Nation, the largest American Indian tribe in the US, are among the highest of any group with 1716 cases in their population of about 300 000.3 This raises the question, what about Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders (NHPI)?
It is important to know that NHPI hold on to bitter memories of how infectious diseases decimated our thriving populations throughout our history. The Native Hawaiian population de­clined from roughly 700 000 in 1778 to barely 40 000 by 1900 due to infectious diseases such as smallpox, whooping cough, dysentery, tuberculosis, influenza, and measles.’·’ The recent measles outbreak in Samoa and elsewhere in the Pacific is a harsh reminder to NHPI communities of our vulnerability to infectious diseases as close-knit island communities.• This vulnerability has taken hold of the NHPI diaspora with the arrival ofCOVID-19.

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