Addressing COVID-19 Through a Cultural Lens


A coalition of organizations dedicated to serving Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islanders (NHPI) is taking a cultural approach to stopping the spread of COVID-19 and promoting the safety and wellness of their communities. Called the NHPI Collective COVID-19 Awareness and Prevention Campaign, this hui is led by a steering committee of representatives from Kamehameha Schools (KS), the Council for Native Hawaiian Advancement (CNHA), and the Office of Hawaiian Affairs (OHA).

“We felt it was our kuleana to address this through a cultural lens. We determined the strengths of our community and utilized these core values to articulate solutions for our ʻohana,” said Mehana Hind, Community Engagement director at OHA. “We are asking everyone to ʻmālama your pālama’ and take care of your mind, body and spirit, and your ʻohana.”

The organizations joined forces in the summer to address the disproportionate impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on the NHPI community. Members of the collective include The Queen’s Health Systems, Papa Ola Lōkahi, Queen Liliʻuokalani Trust, King Lunalilo Trust and Home, and We Are Oceania.

“We continue to see the disproportionate impacts of this pandemic on the welfare of Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders,” said Kauʻi Burgess, KS director of Community & Government Relations. “As island communities, our people and our cultures share similar values and practices, so we are working together to effect change throughout Hawaiʻi – for our keiki, for our kūpuna and for all the people of Hawaiʻi.”

Recent COVID-19 case data from the Department of Health shows that Pacific Islanders continue to account for the majority of COVID-19 cases with 29% of the cases, though they make up only 4% of the population. Native Hawaiians represent the third-highest pool of COVID-19 positive patients with 17% of the total cases to date.

To date, the collective has worked to stop the spread of the virus amongst the NHPI population by:

  • Instituting a month-long kapu to encourage mauli ola, a focus on one’s health and wellbeing, through the leadership of two dozen well-respected kumu hula.
  • Launching educational initiatives like public service announcements (PSAs) featuring key community leaders. The hui recently released a PSA featuring Dr. Jordan Lee, a Native Hawaiian doctor, who speaks about what it’s like working on the frontline in the ICU at The Queen’s Medical Center.
  • Providing and pointing people to resources like free COVID-19 testing, food distributions, and financial support.

“We cannot let our guard down. We know our Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander population is vulnerable in terms of health disparities, making us an at-risk community,” said Kūhiō Lewis, president and CEO of CNHA. “We have to be vigilant and work together to ensure that everyone is mindful of the risk involved in not taking the proper precautions to protect your health and safety.”

Amidst the double-threat of the COVID-19 pandemic and flu season, the collective is urging the lāhui to take preventative measures to stay healthy – like getting a flu shot.

“It’s especially important that you get your flu shot this year to prevent the double-whammy of developing symptoms of the flu and COVID-19,” said Dr. Gerard Akaka, vice president of Native Hawaiian Affairs & Clinical Support at The Queen’s Health Systems. “We are at war and COVID-19 is the enemy. We have to change the way we do things and share aloha in a different way.”

“From a cultural perspective, it comes down to saving our families,” said Jocelyn Howard, Program Director of We Are Oceania. “A clear solution to save our families, that we can take into our own hands and doesn’t require doctors, is to wear a mask and social distance.”