HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) – Hawaii’s health and business leaders say the pandemic has exposed troubling inequalities between ethnic and economic groups across the state.

The crisis has also underscored the extent to which health is linked to the resources available in communities.

“The zip code is important and when it comes to how the pandemic has affected our community over the past 18 months, the zip code is even more important,” said Ray Vara, CEO of Hawaii Pacific Health.

Vara, speaking at a recent COVID hearing at State House, revealed the glaring gaps in the lifespan of people, even in neighboring communities.

“The difference in life expectancy between Hawaii Kai and the west side of Oahu is over 10 years shorter,” said Vara. “The difference between Hawaii Kai and Waimanalo is about 12 years younger in Waimanalo than it is around the corner in Hawaii Kai.”

Waimanalo and the west side of Oahu both have low vaccination rates. And many residents of those communities are native Hawaiians, who account for 40% of recent COVID deaths in the state.

Queen’s Health Systems CEO Jill Hoggard Green said reluctance towards vaccines stems, in part, from mistrust of the health system and government.

“We have to be humble and listen to why there is no trust,” she said. “What are some things we can do to better build trust, be trustworthy, and build relationships that can strengthen health? “

Vara adds that not everything needs fixing.

“The health of a population is only about 20% defined in the care we provide within our facilities,” said Vara.

“The rest is further upstream if you will. Understanding the impacts of early childhood development, understanding the impacts on K-12 education, understanding the impact of food insecurities.

University of Hawaii Economic Research Organization executive director Carl Bonham said meeting these needs requires comprehensive and direct action in communities that need help.

“Expand funded research that examines specific interventions that help address specific types of health problems facing underserved populations and indigenous populations in the state,” Bonham said.

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