Fourteen of the teams researchers are posing for a picture . The group is organized into two lines while positioned in front of a whiteboard, and they are all wearing neutral and muted colors.
The study’s researchers and community-based partners (Front row from left to right: Melina Rodriguez, Samantha Peralta, Kaiser Sina, Pearun Tieng, Bonim Ouk, Melanie Sabado-Liwag Back row from left to right: Dave Atienza, Brenda Romero, Linda Sibkhe, Patty Kwan, Jeffery Lim, Cynthia Robles, Tanat Matakaveepat, Jamie Prudencio). Photo provided by Patty Kwan.

A team of California State University, Northridge researchers are examining the social, ethical, and behavioral implications of COVID-19 testing, vaccination, and its long-term impacts among Cambodian, Filipino, Thai, and Vietnamese Americans in Los Angeles. 

Their study is titled “Southeast Asians in the US: Health Equity and Research to Understand Covid-19 Stories (SEA US, HEAR US).”  The CSUN team — along with a variety of students and faculty researcher, Melanie Sabado-Liwang, from California State University, Los Angeles — is studying the impacts of COVID-19 on the four largest Southeast Asian communities in Los Angeles.

“There is no one study that will change the face of minority-focused research overnight,” said CSUN health sciences professor Patty Kwan, the team’s lead principal investigator. “However, I hope our research can add insight into the benefits of data disaggregation. Can we all aim towards a specified and more ethical approach to research that better understands how we can service historically disadvantaged communities?”

Kwan, who is also a part of the CSUN Health Equity Research & Education Center, said that most of her work is focused on gathering health data from underserved Pacific Islander and Southeast Asian communities.

The project was funded with a grant of more than $1 million over two years from the National Institutes of Health’s Rapid Acceleration of Diagnostics (RADx) initiative. The researchers are currently in the data collection phase, which involves conducting surveys to document the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on these ethnic-specific Asian-American communities. 

Prior to collecting the survey data, a study was conducted to understand the communities’ interpretation and perception of the survey questions. This made it easier for the team to better identify cultural differences and language barriers that contributed to the communities’ answers. To this end, the researchers collaborated with non-profit community-based organizations in the area. Partners include Orange County Asian and Pacific Islander Community Alliance, Search to Involve Pilipino Americans, United Cambodian Community, and Thai Community Development Center. 

Kwan, who teaches in the College of Health and Human Development, explained that partnering with these organizations helped the SEA US, HEAR US team build trust with the community and highlight unheard Asian American perspectives. 

“Having firsthand community input helped our researcher contextualize the data within the greater Cambodian, Filipino, Thai, and Vietnamese experience,” she said. This direct communication also provided the researchers with a fuller picture of the struggles unique to these ethnic groups and how to address them, she said.

“What we discover by parsing out the data on Asians is that they are very different,” Kwan said. “When Asians are perceived as one large ethnic group the Cambodian, Filipino, Thai, and Vietnamese communities are often underserved. There is great variety in the experiences and migration patterns of different ethnic groups. When Southeast Asian data is combined with that of the greater Asian American community, their specific needs are often not met.” 

The SEA US, HEAR US project is being funded, along with more than 120 testing and research programs as a part of the RADx initiative. The team’s research falls under RADx Underserved Populations (RADx-UP) program, one of the program’s four subunits designed to advance innovation, commercialization, and implementation of the technologies used for COVID-19 testing. 

Kwan said she hopes that her team’s method and discoveries will inspire others in her field to continue developing even more innovative and ethical ways to interact with the minority communities they are serving.  

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