HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - The University of Hawaii is launching a new first-in-the world master of public health program concentrating in Native Hawaiian and Indigenous people, as its public health office takes steps to become a stand-alone school once again.
There was celebration with a Hawaiian chant Wednesday at UH Manoa, as students, faculty and administrators gathered to mark the beginning of the new program, which begins enrolling students next fall.
"Indigenous peoples suffer the worst health disparities in the world and we are in dire need of professionals to be able to assist us both in research, public health practice, program evaluation," said Maile Taualii, a UH professor who will chair the new effort.
"One, it's the first of its kind. It's global. So for the Hawaii community, we'll be bringing in people from all over the world to help us look at issues facing indigenous people here in Hawaii, as well as across the world," Taualii said.
Life expectancy for Native Hawaiians is 13 years shorter than other populations and Hawaiians suffer diabetes and infant mortality at more than twice the rate of other ethnicities.
"This is a very functional degree we're hoping to be. Our students can return back to communities, and actually help our communities address their own concerns in their own ways and be able to develop sustainable programs," said Keawe Kaholokula, chairman of the UH John A. Burns School of Medicine's Native Hawaiian health program.
Chad Noble-Tabiolo of Kalihi is one of the first students to enroll in the new Native Hawaiian public health masters program this fall. A Farrington High School graduate, he attended Saint Louis University and completed a research fellowship at the National Institutes of Health.
"I wanted to come back and serve my community, and bring hope and impact, generations to come in health," Noble-Tabiolo said. "Being from Kalihi, I recognize that there are problems. And a lot of problems in the Native Hawaiian community, in the Polynesian communities."
Jay Maddock, director of UH's Office of Public Health Studies, said, "By training indigenous researchers in indigenous methods, we're hoping really the community will help solve the problems and we're hoping it's going to keep a lot of our best and brightest students here in Hawaii for graduate school."
UH hopes to re-open a stand-alone school of public health called the School of Global and Community Health in the next two years. The school closed in 1999, after it lost accreditation.
But this year, lawmakers turned down UH officials' requests for $2 million a year in funding to re-open the school as a separate entity. The public health program now functions as an office under the UH Medical School.
But Maddock said the program has been building itself back up over the last few years. The new program for Native Hawaiians is UH's fourth masters in public health program, along with two doctoral degree programs in the field, Maddock said. UH also hopes to open an undergraduate public health program this fall, he said.