University of Guam, part of a partnership in the “Puipuia le Ola” project of the University of Hawaii, was awarded a federal grant of nearly $1 million to help increase COVID-19 testing among Pacific islanders in Guam and Hawaii and seek to reveal infection patterns in those populations.

Funded by the the National Institutes of Health, the project aims to develop and evaluate specific community engagement strategies to be disseminated in the native languages of Pacific islander communities.

“There is a disparity in how COVID-19 is impacting Pacific islanders, and this grant allows community-based organizations to specifically focus on this group and ultimately reduce the infection and mortality rate through health education and outreach,” said Rachael Leon Guerrero, vice provost of research and sponsored programs at the University of Guam.

The project defines Pacific islanders as indigenous people having origins in Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands, American Samoa, the Federated States of Micronesia, the Marshall Islands and Palau, UOG stated in a release.

Residents originating from other islands in Micronesia are part of a growing population affected by the coronavirus. On Guam, residents from these islands comprise 7% of the population, but account for 14% of COVID-19 cases. In Hawaii, they make up 4% of the population, but account for nearly 30% of COVID-19 cases and 20% of all COVID-19 deaths, the release stated.

Pacific islanders commonly suffer from certain ailments that are known to increase the risk of having severe COVID-19 symptoms, according to the John A. Burns School of Medicine at the University of Hawaii at Manoa.

Teofila P. Cruz, a post-doctoral researcher with the Research Corporation of the University of Guam and a registered nurse, will be leading the work on Guam.

"Lessons learned from this project will inform similar efforts for Pacific islander communities and other underserved and vulnerable populations across the nation while expanding the reach of COVID-19 testing efforts, and subsequent COVID-19 vaccination campaigns, in Hawaii and Guam," UOG stated in the release.

Information was provided in a press release.

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