Native Hawaiians and other Pacific Islanders (NHOPI) experience a disproportionate burden of cancer. Although NHOPI make up only 1% of the U.S. population, they comprise 26% of Hawai‘i residents. The reasons for cancer health disparities in NHOPI include higher prevalence of tobacco use and obesity, lower income, lower rates of insurance coverage, and lower access to care than Caucasians.

To address cancer health disparities in NHOPI communities, the ‘Imi Hale Native Hawaiian Cancer Network was established in 2000 with funding from the National Cancer Institute. ‘Imi Hale is a partnership between Papa Ola Lōkahi (a community consortium for elevating Hawaiian health and wellness), the University of Hawai‘i Office of Public Health Studies, and The Queen’s Medical Center. The goals are to increase participation in cancer prevention, screening, and treatment, as well as to increase the research capacity of NHOPI communities.

‘Imi Hale connected with NHOPI communities through Native Hawaiian Health Care Systems (NHHCS) and community health centers (CHCs) that operate in and are staffed with people from those communities. ‘Imi Hale worked with NHHCS and CHCs to increase their capacity in smoking cessation, obesity control, cancer screening, cancer treatment, and cancer survivorship. To increase cancer awareness, ‘Imi Hale developed and distributed more than 80 NHOPI-tailored cancer education products through the NHHCS and CHCs. ‘Imi Hale also trained hospital- and community-based patient navigators to guide people who need cancer screening and treatment to care. Navigators help mobilize patients’ natural support systems and link them to insurance, transportation, childcare, pharmaceutical programs, and more.

Concurrently, ‘Imi Hale provided research training to NHOPI individuals and those who serve them, leading to research projects that have increased participation in cancer screening by providing education and navigation through community clinics, civic clubs, churches, and senior centers. On the policy front, ‘Imi Hale helped pass laws restricting public smoking and increasing the smoking age from 18 to 21. Finally, ‘Imi Hale partnered with The Queen’s Medical Center for inclusion in the National Cancer Institute’s Community Cancer Center Program and Community Oncology Research Program.

The goal of a good university-community partnership is to end with sustained change. Even if the relationship between an academic institution and community center goes away, the new laws and the strengthened cancer care services will remain. Through these partnerships, an underserved community can increase its capacity to reduce cancer health disparities and best address healthcare needs.