UH project: building trust to promote health in local communities

Health literacy is a valuable tool in navigating through the complex landscape of modern healthcare.

Researchers from the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa Thompson School of Social Work & Public Health have been part of a two-year project, working with public health agencies, non profit organizations, and healthcare partners, focusing on improving health literacy through community involvement, especially among recent U.S. immigrants. The initiative was supported by a $3.99-million health literacy grant from the Office of Minority Health at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, with potential positive impacts for communities in Hawai‘i and beyond.

Cultural liaisons help champion efforts

Health literacy, defined as the ability to find, understand and use health information, is considered a significant factor in informed decision-making for individuals and their families. The project emphasizes the inclusion of community members as "cultural liaisons." These individuals bring an understanding of local norms, culture and lived experiences, acting as interpreters of health information to ensure accessibility and relevance.

"Our work highlights how cultural liaisons can build trust, understanding and promote antiracism in health delivery systems," said Tetine Sentell, professor of public health at UH Mānoa who worked on the project. “Team members should be compensated appropriately for their expertise and time.” 

According to Sentell, the urgent need for health literacy became even more apparent during the COVID-19 pandemic, underscoring its relevance in every community.

Enhancing global health literacy 

The collaborative team recently shared their work in a paper published in Health Equity and presented their findings at the European Public Health Association Conference, contributing to the global discourse on health literacy.

The project also included a social network analysis. The results revealed that by collaborating to improve health literacy, organizations became more interconnected with each other.  

Sentell envisions a ripple effect, influencing future health literacy initiatives in diverse communities.

"By including community members as cultural liaisons in health initiatives and fostering collaboration among organizations to build health literacy, we can make significant strides in promoting accessible and culturally sensitive health information for all communities," she said.

Other project members included Kara Saiki, Opal Vanessa Buchthal and Catherine Pirkle also from the Office of Public Health Studies, and Meliza Roman and Hyeong Jun Ahn from the John A. Burns School of Medicine

This research is supported by the Office of Minority Health of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) as part of a financial assistance award totaling $3,990,000 with 100 percent funded by OMH/OASH/HHS. The contents are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the official views of, nor an endorsement, by OMH/OASH/HHS, or the U.S. Government. For more information, please visit www.minorityhealth.hhs.gov.

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