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FAYETTEVILLE -- The newly established Center for Pacific Islander Health at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences' northwest campus will work with the local community in setting research priorities, said Nia Aitaoto, co-director of the center.

"We're going to let the Marshallese here in Arkansas drive the agenda," Aitaoto said.

The university formally announced the research center Monday, as well as a $250,000 grant award supporting the effort from the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute.

Aitaoto, who came to Arkansas from the University of Iowa, praised work already begun at UAMS in providing health outreach to the Marshallese.

The Marshallese are one of many ethnic groups categorized as Pacific Islanders. The center, which Aitaoto described as unique, will work to improve the health of all Pacific Islander populations in the United States and U.S.-affiliated islands such as America Samoa and Guam, among others.

Aitaoto, who is Samoan, said that while there may be language differences, Pacific Islanders share many cultural values. She said she plans on bringing researchers, policymakers and health care industry leaders to Arkansas for a conference next year to discuss Pacific Islander health disparities.

Among the Marshallese living in Arkansas, as many as 50 percent have type 2 diabetes, according to UAMS, a rate thought to be one of the highest in the world. Other health disparities for the Marshallese include high rates of cancer, heart disease and obesity, according to UAMS.

In addition to academic research, Aitaoto said the center will seek to collaborate with leaders in education and industry. One long-range goal is to increase the number of Pacific Islanders working in health care professions, she said.

"To get a center like this up and going in such a short amount of time, it's a miracle," said Aitaoto, who joined UAMS July 1 and will work part-time at the center.

The center's other co-director is Pearl McElfish, director of the UAMS Office of Community Health and Research.

Metro on 08/04/2015

Print Headline: Healthier islanders is UAMS unit's goal

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