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FAYETTEVILLE -- Doctors treating Pacific Islanders will be able to more easily access and share culturally specific health information with patients as part of a new University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences initiative.

The Pacific Islander Health Network aims to ensure that health education gets to those who can use the advice and in a language they understand, said Pearl McElfish, associate vice chancellor for the UAMS Northwest Arkansas campus.

An approximately $230,000 grant from the nonprofit Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute is the main source of funding for the project.

Using diabetes as an example, McElfish said Pacific Islander patients seeing any doctor would receive advice and information on eating and monitoring blood sugar.

But in many U.S. doctor's offices, "all of those materials are going to be in English, and the examples of the food and the context of discussing behavioral changes are going to be in a Western context," McElfish said.

The new network will be an online database containing research-tested health plans and tips written in various Pacific Islander languages, McElfish said. She said researchers at UAMS and elsewhere are using scientific methods to develop these informational tools to help patients.

"The tools that will be shared are not just the tools developed here in Arkansas, but the tools that will be developed from hundreds of grants through multiple sites," McElfish said, adding that island health care providers would also be able to see information about various research-based health tools.

McElfish is also co-associate director of the UAMS Center for Pacific Islander Health, with is based in Fayetteville. Nia Aitaoto is the center's other co-associate director.

She said the database will be hosted by UAMS and likely up and running within a year.

It's the latest effort led by UAMS to address health disparities for a fast-growing population group. An estimate from the U.S. Census Bureau found that 1.5 million people who are native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander lived in the U.S. in 2015, up from 1.2 million in 2010.

Earlier this year, UAMS researchers began a three-year study on ways to fight diabetes among Marshallese.

About 11,000 Marshallese live in Northwest Arkansas, according to UAMS, making the region the largest community of Marshallese outside of the Marshall Islands, located about midway between Hawaii and Australia.

UAMS researchers have found that more than 40 percent of this group has type 2 diabetes, formerly known as adult-onset diabetes -- a rate more than four times that of the U.S. population as a whole.

The diabetes research is also being done with help of a grant from the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute, which is providing $2.1 million for the study. Congress created the research institute in 2010, but it is a nongovernmental organization.

In a statement, Joe Selby, executive director of the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute, described the need for culturally specific research.

"We know that the community can play a major role in supporting, or hindering, people's ability to do good self-care. And we know that communities and their cultures differ greatly. So, one approach to diabetes prevention and management may not work equally well in all communities," Selby said, adding that the institute supports research that "considers the special circumstances of individual patients and their communities."

UAMS in 2015 established the Center for Pacific Islander Health, described by the university as the first such center in the U.S. The center's goals include increasing research and offering culture-based training for health care providers.

NW News on 12/21/2017

Print Headline: UAMS initiative offers health advice in Pacific Islanders' languages

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