News (all)

  • Mosquito-breeding potential campus areas revealed in study

    Posted Jun 17, 2021 at 6:40am

    The highest number of potential mosquito breeding sites on campus are located in the student residential areas of the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa, according to research out of the Thompson School of Social Work & Public Health. The study, published in the Hawaiʻi Journal of Health & Social Welfare (PDF), advised practical strategies to reduce mosquito breeding.

  • UH Regent Michelle Tagorda honored for years of service, advocacy

    Posted Jun 10, 2021 at 12:33pm

    University of Hawaiʻi Regent Michelle Tagorda was honored by the Board of Regents for her seven years of service to the university with a proclamation of appreciation. Tagorda’s term ends June 30, 2021.

  • Suicide-prevention effort targets 60K underserved Hawai‘i youth

    Posted Apr 13, 2021 at 3:42pm

    Rural, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander youth and communities have greater needs with respect to suicide prevention and mental health support. Now, with a new $3.5-million grant, University of Hawaiʻiat Mānoa researchers in public health and psychiatry will aim to reach at least 60,000 of these young people in Hawaiʻi with suicide prevention efforts.

    Researchers Jeanelle Sugimoto-Matsuda of the Office of Public Health Studies in the Thompson School of Social Work & Public Health and Deborah Goebert of the John A. Burns School of Medicine, along with their colleagues, were awarded the federal grant from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. The grant will fund the Hawaiʻi‘s Caring Systems Initiative for Youth Suicide Prevention.

    “Our approach is to offer hope, help and healing to youth in Hawaiʻi‘s rural and underserved areas,” Sugimoto-Matsuda said. “This grant will fund our efforts to reach youth in their schools, communities and health care facilities, and to also improve the effectiveness of these systems.”

    This effort is an example of UH Mānoa’s goal of Excellence in Research: Advancing the Research and Creative Work Enterprise (PDF), one of four goals identified in the 2015–25 Strategic Plan (PDF), updated in December 2020. 

    Fostering collaboration across systems

    The initiative uses a strengths-based approach, meaning it will work to enhance existing programs and tap into the resiliency and relationships in Hawaiʻi families and communities. The researchers selected four best practice programs that will be involved: 

    • The Connect Suicide Prevention and Postvention Curriculum
    • Sources of Strength
    • The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention’s Suicide Bereavement Support Group Facilitator Training 
    • Zero Suicide (including Continuity of Care)

    Sugimoto-Matsuda and Goebert’s initiative will foster collaboration across these various systems and communities, and integrate their work so that more youth can be reached. The initiative will impact teens, young adults, parents and families, healthcare and education providers, community members and professionals who work with youth.

    “We want to work across all of the systems that serve the youth in our state—education, health care, and other social services systems—in partnership with our communities,” Goebert said.

    Despite the adversity faced by today’s youth, most do not develop suicidality or self-harm behaviors, she noted. The team’s long-term partnerships with community organizations, including the Prevent Suicide Hawaiʻi Taskforce, will help them to strengthen the capacity of the systems and improve prevention of youth suicide deaths and attempts.

    “When we strengthen the systems that serve our youth to better prevent suicide and build resiliency, we strengthen all of Hawaiʻi,” Sugimoto-Matsuda said.

    Help is available

    If you are having thoughts of suicide, or you are worried about a friend or loved one, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 (TALK), or text “ALOHA” to the national Crisis Text Line at 741-741. Additional resources are available online.

    Story originally posted at UH News.

  • Prestigious national maternal, child health award for UH professor emerita

    Posted Apr 13, 2021 at 3:36pm

    A University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa public health professor emerita has won a national award for her lifelong work in maternal and child health. Gigliola Baruffi was awarded the Maternal and Child Health Lifetime Achievement Award by the U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration for her impact in the field.

    Baruffi joined UH in 1984 and became lead of the maternal and child health training grant at the School of Public Health. She served as a professor, researcher, mentor and role model for 21 years at the university.

    “Dr. Baruffi has been a truly inspirational leader to many health professionals, across the globe, across decades, and across cultures,” said Tetine Sentell, director of the Office of Public Health Studies (OPHS). “The award was given to Baruffi for her distinguished service, inspirational leadership, and positive impact on the field of maternal and child health.”

    “I’m thrilled to win this recognition,” Baruffi said. “Studying and taking care of women and children and training other professionals have been the centerpieces of my life’s work.” 

    Baruffi attended medical school in Italy in the 1950s. Her work in public health began when, as a young physician in India, she realized that she kept seeing the same children return to her clinic to be treated. “It just clicked—we needed to do something to prevent these kids from developing these illnesses, rather than just continue treating them,” Baruffi said. 

    The experience spurred her to pursue her master of public health at Johns Hopkins University. Later, she traveled to Bangladesh and worked for the World Health Organization and the World Bank in maternal and child health and family planning before joining UH.

    Inspiring the next generation

    “Dr. Baruffi created a pipeline for future health professionals to enter the maternal and child health workforce in the U.S.-Affiliated Pacific Islands, including Guam, Micronesia, Samoa, the Northern Mariana Islands, the Marshall Islands and Palau,“ said Elizabeth McFarlane, an associate professor in OPHS and one of Baruffi’s many mentees. “Graduates of Dr. Baruffi’s training program have become directors and ministers of health throughout the Pacific.”

    A key part of her work was recognizing the disadvantaged environments in which maternal and child health professionals in the Pacific operated. Baruffi showed them that they belong in national discussions and are an important part of the professional community. She developed culturally appropriate materials and taught them the skills necessary to implement grant-based programs in their communities.

    Now retired, Baruffi knows that the next generation of public health and medical professionals will carry on her work. “The best of this work is inspiring others to take on important research in women’s and children’s health and work towards greater health equity around the world,” she said.

    Story originally posted at UH News

  • Local restaurants offer few options for healthy kids' beverages

    Posted Apr 12, 2021 at 1:42pm

    Children are particularly vulnerable to the negative health effects of sugary drinks, yet prior to a recent law aimed at improving healthy options for Hawaiʻi’s keiki, it was rare to find healthy beverages as a “default” option with kids’ meals in Hawaiʻi restaurants.

    University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa public health researchers researchers found that among a random sample of 64 restaurants across the state that offered kids’ meals, just two restaurants listed only healthy drinks such as water, low-fat milk or 100% juice as a default beverage option with the meal. The researchers conducted their study prior to the enactment of a law requiring restaurants to offer a healthy drink as the default choice.

    “The hope is that Hawaiʻi‘s new law will nudge customers into healthier choices by making the healthy choice the easy choice,” said Meghan McGurk, who led the study and works as a researcher with the Office of Public Health Studies in the Thompson School of Social Work and Public Health. The paper is published in the Journal of Healthy Eating and Active Living (JHEAL).

    Pandemic challenges 

    McGurk and her co-authors focused on restaurants that offered children’s meals in which the food is bundled together with a drink. Since January 1, 2020, Hawaiʻi restaurants offering such meals have been subject to the new law. The researchers conducted their study during November and December 2019 because they wanted to know how many restaurants were complying with the law before they were required to do so.

    “Shockingly, sugar-sweetened beverages were offered as a default option for keiki by more than 60% of restaurants in the sample,” McGurk said. “This makes the success of this law more important.” Unfortunately, however, the pandemic has created challenges for the new law’s implementation. McGurk and her co-authors discussed the impacts of COVID-19 on the new law, and other health promotion efforts, in a separate paper also published recently in Global Health Promotion.

    “There are many reasons it’s become more difficult during the pandemic for restaurants to offer healthy drink options,” McGurk said. “In order to even remain open, restaurants have had to spread out their tables and change employee procedures. They may be reluctant to change children’s items because kids’ meals do not generate much revenue and many restaurants are currently struggling due to the pandemic.”

    In addition, many restaurants have turned to third-party delivery services to maintain their business, which adds fees that cut into restaurant profits. It is also unclear whether the menus posted on third-party sites fall under the scope of healthy beverage law.

    Positive effects of pandemic

    “However, the pandemic may also have positive effects on health promotion efforts,” McGurk said. Self-service beverage stations, which allow customers to refill cups with sugary drinks many times, are being discouraged to prevent viral spread. Also, new technology being used to social distance, such as tableside ordering apps, could help ensure healthy options are consistently offered as the default beverage for keiki.

    “The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the importance of policies that improve access to healthy foods to prevent and manage chronic disease,” McGurk said. “We now have a great opportunity to improve restaurant and menu design and promote healthy food environments.”

    McGurkʻs co-authors on the JHEAL paper include: Stephanie L. CacalUyen VuTetine Sentell and Catherine M. Pirkle of the Office of Public Health Studies, and Toby Beckelman, Jessica Lee and Alyssa Yang of the Hawaiʻi State Department of Health (DOH). Her co-authors on the commentary include Pirkle, Beckelman, Lee, Yang, Sentell and Katherine Inoue and Heidi Hansen-Smith of DOH.

    This research is an example of UH Mānoa’s goal of Excellence in Research: Advancing the Research and Creative Work Enterprise (PDF), one of four goals identified in the 2015–25 Strategic Plan (PDF), updated in December 2020.

    Story originally posted at UH News

  • Now is the Wrong Time to Defund Public Health Infrastructure

    Posted Feb 26, 2021 at 10:44am

    In this pandemic, we have seen clearly how the health of individuals and communities are connected. We are at a critical junction for the public’s health, with real opportunities for better, more equitable lives. But if we make the wrong choices, we risk further threatening community health now and into the future. We also risk increasing the inequities in our societies that COVID-19 has so vividly illuminated.

    The choices we make now, both inside and outside of the health sector, will have reverberations for years to come. Now is the wrong time to defund public health infrastructure.

    A History Of Neglect And Interference

    One reason the pandemic has been so devastating in the United States is because our public health infrastructure has been gutted for decades. The media widely covered the 2018 disbandment of the White House’s National Security Council Directorate for Global Health Security and Biodefense.

    This organization’s entire mission was to prevent the next disease outbreak. Its elimination is only the tip of the iceberg, as over 100 rules and policies to protect health were dismantled or rolled back.

    In the U.S., public health’s share of the approximately $3.6 trillion in annual health expenditures is under 3%, a figure that has been declining for nearly two decades.

    Most health dollars go to the treatment and management of disease, much of it directed to a vast, complicated and fragmented health care system. This is despite evidence that a robust national public health system could save billions of dollars annually by reducing the burden of preventable illness and keeping people healthy.

    Governments Forced To Make Cuts

    State and local governments are the main sources of public health dollarsSpending for state public health departments has declined by 16% per capita since 2010 and 18% for local health departments. As their budgets get cut, so do the employees and programs dedicated to preventing disease and promoting health.

    Despite many working extraordinary hours throughout this pandemic, typically at low salaries, and with gutted infrastructure from the years of cutting public health dollars and services, public health workers have frequently been maligned, ridiculed and harassed. Many are leaving their jobs because of this, taxing already limited capacity.

    In 2000, the Institute of Medicine warned that the infrastructure of America’s public health system was eroding. Over 40,000 state and local public health jobs have been lost since then.

    It is no surprise that we were ill-equipped to address the COVID-19 pandemic. If we do not urgently reinvest and rebuild public health, the next pandemic may be worse. The pandemic has inspired tremendous interest in study and practice in public health. We can leverage this for an engaged, diverse and skilled public health workforce nationally and specifically to identifyunderstand, and meet Hawaii’s unique needs.

    Hawaii Has Reason To Be Proud

    Compared to the rest of the U.S., Hawaii has fared well through the pandemic in many respects. Our positivity rates, numbers hospitalized and total deaths have been among the best in the United States.

    American life expectancy dropped by a full year in the first six months of 2020, representing the largest drop since World War II. Across the U.S., nearly 20% more people died this year compared to last, but in Hawaii, our death rate remained largely the same.

    Our comparative success has been explored elsewhere and attributed to our geography, strong early control action, community response and a mutual sense of vulnerability and commitment to each other.

    Our public health infrastructure should be lauded and further supported. Hawaii leads the U.S. in many critical measures of the public’s health, including the longest life expectancy in the nation. One key reason for this is our long-term focus on theory-based efforts to prevent chronic disease with systems and policy change along with promoting healthy individual behavior.

    While COVID-19 has reignited the world’s interest in infectious diseases, most people still die from chronic conditions such as heart disease, cancer and stroke. These conditions also increase one’s risk of death from COVID-19.

    Threats On The Horizon

    Despite the biggest global health crisis in over a century, several bills proposed in this legislative session threaten core public health programs that have contributed to Hawaii being one of the healthiest states in the nation.

    Tobacco is an excellent example. Smoking is the second-leading cause of early death and disability worldwide. Hawaii has been a leader across the U.S. in tobacco prevention and control policies. One of the foundations of Hawaii’s leadership in tobacco control is dedicated funding for prevention and cessation, but this is now being threatened.

    These dedicated funds support programs like the Hawaii Tobacco Quitline and smoking prevention programs for children. We are one of the few states that actually spends our tobacco revenue on tobacco programs. We should continue this practice and support prevention for the good of our communities, especially our youth.

    In response to the previous economic crisis, we cut core programs in public health and services for vulnerable communities. Instead of being recognized as a health leader, we were belittled by the Associated Press who noted: “Public schools in Hawaii are closed most Fridays, rats scurry across bananas in an uninspected market and there may not be enough money to run a Congressional election.”

    Let us learn from 2009. Cheap activities of prevention, like mask-wearing, mean we are less likely to get sick and to sicken our neighbors, friends and family. Similarly, preventive programs that allow opportunities to exercise, reduce diabetes risk, stop smoking, address mental health and avoid sexually transmitted disease save costs and lives.

    It can be hard to see things that don’t happen, but the lack of crisis is when public health prevention and planning are working.

    Hawaii is lauded for our excellent COVID outcomes and our high percentage of people with health insurance. As the vaccine rolls out, agencies plan ahead and our Legislature deliberates, let’s not cut budgets and programs that prevent disease and promote wellbeing.

    About the Authors

    Tetine Sentell

    Tetine Sentell is the director/chair of the Office of Public Health Studies at UH Manoa and a professor in Health Policy and Management. She is currently co-lead of the Healthy Hawaii Initiative Evaluation Team, which evaluates chronic disease prevention efforts for the Hawaii Department of Health.

    Catherine Pirkle

    Catherine Pirkle is an associate professor at the Office of Public Health Studies at UH Manoa. She is co-lead of the Healthy Hawaii Initiative Evaluation Team.

    Originally posted at Civil Beat

  • Loved ones essential in Native Hawaiian, Pacific Islander health care

    Posted Feb 18, 2021 at 9:11am

    For many Native Hawaiians and other Pacific Islanders with chronic health conditions, health interventions should include their family members or close friends, according to University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa public health research. The paper is published in Chronic Illness.

    Researchers led by Tetine Sentell, director of the Office of Public Health Studies in the Thompson School of Social Work & Public Health, interviewed 22 adult patients who were hospitalized at The Queen’s Medical Center. The researchers asked the patients about the people in their lives who they turned to when they needed help with their health. Most patients were of Native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islander heritage.

    “The patients in our study generally preferred to have family members or close friends involved in their care, to improve their health and reduce expensive hospitalizations,” said co-author Joy Agner, who worked on this study as a UH Mānoa graduate student. “We concluded that it is important to develop appropriate interventions that include the people who are important to patients, rather than expecting patients to go it alone.”

    For the study, Sentell and her co-authors assessed each patient’s health literacy, which is their ability to understand and use healthcare information to make health decisions. Then, the patients answered questions about the people who helped them with their health, by doing things such as reminding them to take medications or assisting them in making health decisions. The researchers looked at the age, sex, education level and health knowledge of the people who helped the patients.

    All of the patients in the study were hospitalized for conditions such as uncontrolled diabetes or heart disease—conditions that don’t usually require hospitalization if the patient receives high-quality, culturally-relevant primary care.

    Results showed that most patients had at least one person who helped them manage their chronic health condition. Many saw the people who helped them with their health frequently, and usually saw them in person. Maintaining these relationships is an important consideration in the time of COVID-19.

    “People’s social connections play a critical role in the management of their health,” Sentell said. “For Native Hawaiians and other Pacific Islanders, tapping into the power of these important connections can help to fight health disparities and build a strength-based approach.”

    Not all patients wanted family or friends in their care. Future research should examine these patients’ preferences for their care and look for ways to improve their health.

    Sentell and Agner’s co-authors include Deborah Taira, James Davis, Santhosh Mannem, Todd B. Seto, May Vawer and Thomas W. Valente.

    Story originally posted at UH News

  • Double-masking, tighter fit offers more COVID-19 protection

    Posted Feb 12, 2021 at 12:10pm

    Wearing a cloth mask over a surgical mask, also known as double-masking, provides substantially more protection against COVID-19, according to new data released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The research found that double masking with a cloth mask over a surgical mask, as well as knotting the ear loops of surgical masks with tucked-in sides, reduced exposure by more than 95%, compared to wearing no mask at all. University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa public health studiesprofessor and graduate chair Alan Katz said this is important new information, especially with the new fast-spreading variants of the COVID-19 virus.

    “This is how to optimize the use of the mask,” said Katz in response to the CDC findings. “Besides what we all know about covering your nose and your mouth, this is going a step above that, looking at maximizing protection. What they are concerned about is loosening masks or single layered masks, which may not be that helpful.”

    Other proven options to improve mask fit according to the CDC include wearing a mask fitter and wearing a nylon covering over a mask. Katz said the key takeaway is that snug face coverings better prevent the spread of airborne COVID-19 droplets and that appropriate masking and social distancing continue to be the two most important COVID-19 prevention steps.

    “Even with the vaccine, individuals could potentially get an infection, not get sick, and still potentially infect others. Even as people are getting vaccinated, we want to make sure people who havenʻt been vaccinated are protected,” he added.

    More residents want to get vaccinated

    On the vaccine front, Katz said a recent statewide survey where 91% of respondents say they plan to get the COVID-19 vaccine is welcome news. The survey report (PDF) commissioned by the HawaiʻiDepartment of Health (DOH) showed that attitudes about the vaccine are rapidly shifting since vaccinations first began in mid-December. 

    “Nationally, the figures are way, way lower than reported in Hawaiʻi,” said Katz, citing a CDC survey released this week that found 49.1% of the people in the U.S. plan to get vaccinated. “Kudos to Hawaiʻi; that is so heartening to hear.”

    According to the state survey, 55% plan to get vaccinated as soon as they are eligible, and 36% will wait before receiving their vaccinations. The survey also showed more than a third, or 37%, of Hawaiʻiresidents are less concerned about the impact the virus has on their health, and instead are now primarily focused on the pandemic’s economic and financial impact.

    The survey was conducted from December 30, 2020 to January 11, 2021, and included 445 adult Hawaiʻifull-time residents statewide.

    Story originally posted at UH News

  • Native Hawaiian groups meet community need during COVID-19

    Posted Jan 19, 2021 at 2:39pm

    The COVID-19 pandemic has worsened many of the problems faced by Native Hawaiian communities, but in a new paper, public health researchers detail the numerous efforts of Native Hawaiian-led groups that show these communities’ strength and resilience.

    Since the start of the pandemic, Native Hawaiians and other Pacific Islanders have faced a higher risk of contracting COVID-19 than other groups in Hawaiʻi. They also endured high levels of unemployment and economic insecurity.

    “This paper highlights the power of Native Hawaiian communities during these trying times,” said Jane Chung-Do, senior author and associate professor with University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa’s Office of Public Health Studies within the Thompson School of Social Work & Public Health. The paper is published in the Journal of Indigenous Social Development.

    Nonprofit efforts

    The nonprofit group Ke Kula Nui O Waimānalo (KKNOW), whose aim is to promote health and support the self-sustainability of the Waimānalo community, has partnered with other nonprofits, businesses and governmental agencies to provide food for Waimānalo families. Since mid-March, the group has distributed 24,000 prepared meals and 3,550 boxes of fresh produce. KKNOW also delivered seeds and seedlings of traditional Hawaiian crops such as kalo (taro) and ʻuala (sweet potato) to families and community members who are vulnerable to food insecurity, economic instability and other social challenges.

    “The goal of KKNOW is to build community resilience by helping fellow Native Hawaiians grow their own food before further disruptions strike,” said Kirk Dietschman, president of Ke Kula Nui O Waimānalo and a co-author of the paper.

    Other nonprofits have also pitched in. The meals were prepared by chefs and students in a culinary training program, coordinated by the nonprofit KUPU Hawaiʻi. Meal delivery was led by Aloha Harvest, and the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands and the Waimānalo Market Co-Op, which provided the sites for the daily food distribution.

    “These efforts succeeded because these Native Hawaiian-led groups anticipated the needs of the community and leveraged existing resources and relationships to meet those needs,” said Ilima Ho-Lastimosa, the lead author of the paper and a community coordinator at the Waimānalo Learning Center of the UH Mānoa College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources (CTAHR). “It is key that these organizations all have history with the community and have earned the trust of the members.”

    Producing long-lasting results

    Historically, efforts to address health disparities have used western-centric methods and have often failed to produce long-lasting results among Indigenous peoples, the researchers wrote in their paper. They concluded that place-based, culturally-grounded interventions show promising results with Indigenous peoples and will be needed to restore the health of Native Hawaiians.

    The co-authors on the paper also include LeShay Keliʻiholokai, Kaua Kassebeer, Hae Kassebeer, Joseph Awa Kamai, Ikaika Rogerson, Kenneth Ho Jr., Manahā Ho, Kamalei Ho, and Denise Kaʻaʻa, of Ke Kula Nui O Waimānalo; Alexxus Ho, of the HawaiʻiPacific University College of Health and Society, and Theodore Radovich of CTAHR.

    This research is an example of UH Mānoa’s goal of Excellence in Research: Advancing the Research and Creative Work Enterprise (PDF), one of four goals identified in the 2015–25 Strategic Plan (PDF), updated in December 2020.

    Story originally posted at UH News

  • UH Mānoa's social work, public health programs celebrate new name

    Posted Jan 13, 2021 at 10:24am

    To highlight the value of combined efforts between public health and social work in supporting the people of Hawaiʻi, the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa’s Myron B. Thompson School of Social Work is pleased to announce the change of its name to the Thompson School of Social Work & Public Health. Since 2016, the Office of Public Health Studies has been part of the school of social work. The renaming provides an enhanced opportunity to embrace its vision of achieving social justice and health equity for the people of Hawaiʻi and citizens in a changing world.

    Most critically, the Thompson School of Social Work & Public Health is training the future workforce of epidemiologists, social workers, gerontologists and other public health experts to help prevent and mitigate the effects of any future pandemics in our community. This effort is an example of UH Mānoa’s goal of Enhancing Student Success, one of four goals identified in the 2015–25 Strategic Plan, updated in December 2020.

    “The efforts of social work and public health professionals improve the health and well-being of individuals and communities,” said William Chismar, interim dean for the Thompson School of Social Work & Public Health. “Through its educational and research programs, the Thompson School trains and supports these professionals and public policy makers.”

    The renaming reflects the major units within the school and highlights the interdisciplinary strength as one school.

    “Renaming the school to the Thompson school will provide a revitalized opportunity to share the legacy of Myron B. Thompson and his significant contributions to the all the communities of Hawaiʻi, and to inspire future generations of social workers and public health professionals,” said Jing Guo, chair of the Department of Social Work.

    Social work and public health are responding in a holistic fashion to address the physical and social determinants of health and well-being, while honoring the people and communities that they serve.

    “Solutions to address the root causes of the pandemic and its collateral effects, and to build community well-being now and for the future, will come from the unique and shared perspectives of public health and social work,” said Tetine Sentell, director of the Office of Public Health Studies. “The name change to the Thompson school makes the role of public health in this critical synergy more visible.”

    During a time of multiple and interpenetrating crises of health and social welfare, the interdisciplinary alliance and professional leadership to advance social reform and public health are more urgent than ever. Social work and public health are essential to the workforce responding to the COVID-19pandemic and the long-term recovery from economic disruptions and drastic effects on people in Hawaiʻi, the nation and the global community.

    Story originally posted at UH News