Achieving Health Equity for Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders

At the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, we recently issued our plan for Asian American, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander Health (AANHPI) Health.  Our plan outlines the Department’s top priorities and strategies for improved health by focusing on critical improvements in the areas of data collection, workforce development, treatment and prevention.

Our plan was developed as part of the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, whose mission is to improve quality of life and opportunities for AANHPI participation in federal programs.  Our plan has four priorities and more than 40 strategies, including:

  • Improve prevention, treatment and control of Hepatitis B (HBV) infections.  AANHPI persons represent nearly half of the 1.25 million Americans with chronic HBV-infections. We intend to develop a national education campaign that will be aired in metro areas where affected populations live.  It will be translated into Chinese, Vietnamese and Korean to increase awareness of HBV and its risk factors and to encourage testing.
  • Improve reporting of data.  Detailed data is critical for identifying which populations are most at risk, and what specific interventions are most effective in attaining improved health care quality for specific populations.
  • Foster workforce diversity.  We hope to transform health care by building on the provisions of the Affordable Care Act related to expanded insurance coverage and increased access to care.  Our plan calls for more opportunities for underrepresented populations to enter the health professions.  It also offers provisions to train more people in medical interpretation to help serve patients with a limited command of English, and to train more community workers to help patients navigate the system.
  • Address critical health issues (including access to care) that impact Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander populations.  Diabetes, cancer, cardiovascular diseases, hypertension and infant mortality are major health issues among Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders.  These health disparities are compounded by the lack of culturally competent health professionals with knowledge of Hawaiian or Pacific Islander culture.

In addition, we continue to work closely with Asian American, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander professional and advocacy groups to support health initiatives and research through agencies including NIH, CDC, SAMHSA, and HRSA.  Our Office of Minority Health (OMH) has a long history of working with AANHPI organizations and works closely with Guam and other Pacific jurisdictions on prevention and testing for HIV, sexually transmitted infections and other co-morbidities.  We helped to create and launch a Pacific Resource and Training Center and support community-based projects and social marketing campaigns including the San Francisco Hep B Free Campaign- a successful community-based prevention model.  Through efforts like these, we hope to better understand and address the disparities AANHPI communities experience as we seek to achieve health equity. 

As an Asian American son of immigrants, I am personally delighted to be part of this effort.  And as a physician and Assistant Secretary for Health, I hope to be part of the solution.  We need better systems of care and wellness that will elevate the public health of Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians, and Pacific Islanders, so we can truly eliminate health disparities in this country.

 Howard K. Koh, MD, MPH, is the Assistant Secretary for Health, US Dept. of Health and Human Services


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