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UH faculty members featured in new FDA podcast about health disparities in Hawai‘i

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A new podcast from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, featuring two University of Hawai‘i faculty members, shines light on health disparities for Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders.

And it’s just in time for Asian American, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, which is observed in May.

Hawai‘i residents have the highest life expectancy of any state in the country, yet the life expectancy of Native Hawaiians lags more than a decade behind residents of Asian ancestry.

That’s just one of the health equity issues discussed in the “Engaging Native Hawaiian Communities in Clinical Trials” podcast produced by the FDA Office of Minority Health and Health Equity as part of its Health Equity Forum podcast series.

The podcast focuses on research by Deborah Taira, a professor in the UH-Hilo Daniel K. Inouye College of Pharmacy on the Big Island and senior scientist at The Queen’s Medical Center in Honolulu, and Dr. Todd Seto, a practicing cardiologist, director of academic affairs at The Queen’s Health System and professor and vice chairman of the Department of Medicine at the UH John A. Burns School of Medicine at Mānoa.

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Their research aims to address and reduce health disparities experienced by people in the Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander communities in Hawai‘i.

“For Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders, there has been a long history of invisibility,” said Taira. “They’ve often been grouped with Asian Americans or in another race category, so when you look at clinical trials that have been conducted, it’s almost impossible to get data on those two specific ethnic groups. And yet, in the case of diabetes, the prevalence of the disease among those two groups is very high.”

Her and Seto’s current project involves building the necessary infrastructure for clinical trials.

“We’ve just completed a pilot study where we interviewed Native Hawaiian, Pacific Islander, Filipino and white patients who were hospitalized with diabetes to determine their trust level in their physicians, beliefs about their medications, whether they’d be willing to participate in a clinical trial and what types of support they would need to do so,” Taira explained.

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One important finding: better communication with those two groups is needed by medical professionals to gain the trust of patients to enroll them in clinical trials.

They found most patients have enormous trust in their health care providers, so engaging with primary care physicians and specialists is essential.

Taira said outreach and education for those primary care providers is needed, some of which could be done through curriculum at the John A. Burns School of Medicine.

Language challenges are also an issue and more prevalent among Pacific Islanders.

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“These patients can originally be from American Samoa, Western Samoa, Guam, Chuuk, Pompeii or Fiji. For many of them, English was not their first language,” Taira said. “In some cases, they may not understand what a clinical trial is, so outreach to these groups needs to be much different.”

The researchers are encouraged by the level of interest seen from Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander patients in being involved in clinical trials. Taira said it’s been overwhelmingly positive.

“So going forward, we hope to take advantage of that momentum and build on it,” she said.

Listen to the FDA podcast here.

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