How One Pacific Islander Community Is Responding To The Pandemic - Honolulu Civil Beat


About the Author

Wilfred C. Alik

Wilfred C. Alik, M.D., practices medicine at the Hilo Kaiser Clinic and is a member of the Marshallese COVID-19 task force.


This COVID-19 pandemic has uncovered underlying health and socioeconomic disparities, the brunt of which is borne by the Pacific Islander communities. Due to pre-existing chronic health conditions, lack of access to quality health care coupled with socioeconomic factors, it’s predictable that PI communities are at high risk of contracting the coronavirus disease.

Thus, in order to reduce the risk and narrow the disparity gap, it will take systemic policy changes as well as political will at both the federal and state levels. However, it will take time for such actions, a scarce commodity during this pandemic. This unprecedented pandemic crisis demands urgent and immediate solutions.

Rather than waiting for the government, various PI communities have rallied and mobilized by forming their own COVID-19 task forces in order to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus into their communities. In spite of lack of resources, they have resolved to take matters into their own hands to ensure their communities are safe.

A Marshallese interpreter at the Towers at Kuhio Park in Kalihi during COVID-19 testing on Sept. 3.

Anita Hofschneider/Civil Beat

In the Marshallese community, a COVID-19 task force team was formed in early March 2020, with volunteer members representing all the Marshallese communities across the islands, organized by the Republic of the Marshall Islands Consulate in Honolulu.

It has closely engaged the faith-based community and leaders, collaborated with both local and U.S. mainland COVID-19 task force team counterparts and other Pacific Islander and Native Hawaiian COVID-19 outreach efforts. It has held community outreach mass drives providing face masks, care packs and foods.

Command Center

Additionally, it has worked with the Republic of the Marshall Island government in its efforts to mitigate the COVID-19 spread and repatriate its stranded citizens. It has been active in its community outreach efforts in ensuring the community is fully engaged in mitigating and containing the COVID-19 infection. It has served as a COVID-19 community resource and command center for the Marshallese community in Hawaii.

As a result, the Marshallese community COVID-19 infection rate has remained relatively contained under the current circumstances. It has demonstrated that such a model of community engagement which is based on cultural competency and engagement can work and should be considered as a reasonable and effective intervention strategy.

Proven intervention strategy of COVID-19 is due primarily to non-pharmaceutical interventions (i.e., face covering, social distancing, hygiene, etc.). To implement such a strategy, which is directly related to human behavior and customs, it’s essential to recognize the significance of active community engagement and participation to help inform best practices. COVID-19 has been shown to impact communities differently with the ethnic minority groups experiencing more devastation.

The Marshallese community’s infection rate has remained relatively contained.

The Marshallese COVID-19 task force has shown that a more reasonable and efficacious intervention approach recognizes the significance of underpinning cultural nuances and practices, as well as language challenges, as an integral part of its strategy. It has implemented a strategy that is culturally competent and sensitive to ensure full community engagement and adherence.

By partnering with the various PI community task forces, the state can form formidable alliances to effectively defeat this COVID-19 pandemic. The government should consider directly engaging and leveraging community assets as one unified island community in its efforts to end this unprecedented pandemic.

It speaks to equity, inclusion, and diversity. After all, we’re all in this together.

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About the Author

Wilfred C. Alik

Wilfred C. Alik, M.D., practices medicine at the Hilo Kaiser Clinic and is a member of the Marshallese COVID-19 task force.


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