On December 18th, 2018, SAAPRI hosted a critical conversation on the health status of South Asian Americans titled “Dil Dhadakne Do (Let Your Heart Beat): A South Asian Community Health Forum” at Jefferson Park, Chicago.
The event featured a panel discussion with Dr. Namratha Kandula from Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine and Village Clerk of Skokie Pramodh Shah, who discussed the need for more South Asian-focused research in health as well as the advancement of health policy that can empower and uplift our communities. Moderated by Dr. Ram Krishnamoorthi, both panelists shared their unique experiences and insights on the status of South Asian public health from their respective work in local government and in research, as well as their partnership on the South Asian Healthy Lifestyle Initiative (SAHELI) study. Together, we had a broad discussion on the health issues affecting the South Asian American community and how to address these from a community health and policy perspective.
South Asians living in the United States are disproportionately at risk for heart disease. We are 4 times more likely to have a heart attack than the general public, experience heart attacks at an average of 10 years earlier, and have 50% higher mortality rate than any other ethnic group. We discussed the latest research and health policy advocacy efforts by healthcare experts and local government, as well as how our community can work together to build on SAAPRI’s efforts to help pass H.R. 3592: The South Asian Heart Health Research and Awareness Act.
These were some of the key takeaways from the discussion:
- Health Issues Affecting South Asians
- Cardiovascular disease and diabetes are among the most common health issues disproportionately affecting South Asians. Some risk factors are specific to South Asians and need to be better understood for prevention and treatment
- Aging and related issues such as dementia and Alzheimer’s, care giving, and social isolation are growing concerns as the elderly South Asian community grows
- Other issues raised included mental health, the role of stress in understanding South Asian health, and the role of immigration as a risk factor.
- Barriers to Effective Healthcare
- Transportation, language access, other communication-related issues, and insurance are barriers for some South Asians when seeking services
- Deficiency of culturally-competent healthcare, especially in physician-patient interactions. This includes a lack of culturally-tailored dietary and exercise recommendations and lack of learning about patient’s religious and cultural background to understand what is meaningful to them as part of their care. There is also a lack of understanding about South Asian-specific health risks and how to screen South Asians differently with an understanding of these risks
- The State of South Asian Health Research
- Some of the most relevant research and insights about cardiovascular disease among South Asian Americans have come from the MASALA study (a longitudinal study with a cohort of 1,000 South Asian participants). Dr. Kandula is also currently leading the SAHELI study, an intervention and behavior change study focused on reducing cardiovascular disease and diabetes among South Asians
- There is little research on healthcare issues for the aging South Asian population. Future research should focus on assessing and meeting this population’s needs
- We need more disaggregated health data (ethnicity, race, country of birth) and South Asian-specific research to get more accurate understanding of risk factors. Future research should expand sampling size and include more diverse South Asian populations (especially those most affected by healthcare access including recent immigrants and lower income households) to account for the diverse backgrounds and life circumstances within the South Asian community.
- Next Steps to Advance a South Asian Public Health Agenda
- More community awareness and education on issues and risk factors that affect South Asians
- Pushing for culturally-tailored and meaningful healthcare recommendations and resources
- Sharing resources created by Skokie Health Department for its South Asian population with other municipalities
- Creating a community health needs and resource assessment for South Asians in Illinois (including the aging population)
- Establishing community health research partnerships with community members shaping research goals and process
- Building bipartisan Congressional support to pass H.R. 3592: The South Asian Heart Health Awareness and Research Act. SAAPRI is leading efforts in Illinois to gain support for this bill, and Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky in Illinois’ 9th District has agreed to cosponsor as a result of our outreach thus far.
Thank you to all those who attended our event!
- Access the Facebook event page here
- Read more about H.R. 3592 here
- Read more about the National Institute of Health’s All of Us Research Program here, an initiative SAAPRI will be joining as part of NIH’s Asian Recruitment and Engagement Core in 2019 to help collect health data on South Asians to improve precision medicine