Pacific islanders living in the US are hospitalized with Covid-19 up to 10 times that of several other racial groups.
The US is most infected countries on earth, with more than 4 million confirmed Covid-19 cases and nearly 150,000 deaths, and the 1.5 million Pacific islanders who live there massively represent rates of infection and hospitalization.
In Washington state, the rate of confirmed cases for native Hawaiians or other Pacific islanders is nine times higher than for whites, while the rate of hospitalization is 10 times that of white people, according to the health department.
The numbers are the most dramatic in the state of Spokane. People from Marshall Island it is less than 1% of the district population but represents about 30% of confirmed Covid-19 cases.
Across the country, countries with significant island populations show the same trend.
In Oregon, the population of the Pacific islands is only 0.4% of the population, but represents almost 3% of all Covid-19 infections. Islanders are three times more likely than other racial groups to be infected by new coronaviruses.
In Arkansas, the population of the Pacific islands is 0.3% of the population, but constitutes 8% of the Covid-19 cases. In Hawaii, the population of the Pacific islands is 4% of the state population, however 25% of Covid-19 cases.
Health authorities are of the opinion that there are a number of factors that drive rates of infection and hospitalization in the Pacific Islands. These factors include that islanders tend to live in large family groups and close communities and have higher rates of chronic diseases, such as diabetes, which can complicate Covid-19.
Experts say islanders are also more likely to be insured or less insured, or expelled from Medicaid because of their immigration status, and more likely to do important frontline work, such as serving in the military or working in security and the service industry, which increases the risk of exposure to Covid -19.
Dr Nia Aitaoto, from the Pacific Islands Primary Care Excellence Center, said cultural practices also contributed.
“We live in a big family, if one family is infected, they can move to another. And we celebrate and gather, that’s our nature and it doesn’t help, “said Aitaoto, a member of the Pacific Island Covid-19 response team.
“When you are positive, you must be in isolation, this is difficult for Pacific Islanders. It is difficult to isolate anyone in the neighborhood, in most cases with two bedrooms and eight to 10 people per household. “
Aitaoto said preexisting medical conditions, perceptions about the provision of health services, unsafe work, and stigma also contributed to the disproportionate impact of Covid-19 on Pacific islanders.
“Some have ignored the rules and sneaked into a funeral home to part with their family members who died from Covid-19. Others do not admit that they have it for fear of losing their jobs. “
Jiji Jally, community organizer with the Marshall Women’s Association, said she was worried about seeing an increase in infections in her community.
“There are so many obstacles like unemployment, access to medical care or insurance … that stop our people from being treated or tested.”
While people from countries freely associated with the Marshall Islands, Palau and the Federated States of Micronesia can travel and work in the US, they do not receive full benefits from a citizen, Jally said.
“We only qualify for medical in Washington and Oregon, so we see many of them moving from Arkansas to these states to get protection.”
However, Jally said even when members of her community were eligible for medical assistance to treat Covid-19, language barriers and the complexity of access to care left many people disappointed.
“People who might be eligible for unemployment during Covid-19 never pursued it because it was too difficult. Those who can get medical help when they are affected find it too difficult, “he said.
The interior affairs office in the US interior department told the Guardian that governments and organizations are working to provide Pacific Island language support.
“Part of the problem is that we don’t have a designation as the Pacific Islands at the federal level,” said Joseph Seia, executive director of the Pacific Islands Community Association.
He said that bureaucratic invisibility meant that funding for Covid-19 could not be specifically targeted for Pacific island intervention in the US.
“Our fate is similar to that of Native Americans and black people. Because of the systematic racism that pollutes the US, Pacific Islanders, along with native and black and brown communities, do not have universal health services. “
The Seia organization, responding to the increasing number of cases, initiated partnerships with public health services to conduct more than 1000 Covid-19 tests specifically for Pacific islanders in Washington state in church parking lots and places known to the islanders.
“We now realize that this system is so damaged that the only hope our people have is if we organize our own interventions and tell government health institutions … what they need to do.”
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