Ninez Ponce, director of the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research, has received a $250,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Minority Health for a project aimed at providing clear and accurate health-related data on California’s Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander communities to local organizations that serve the this population.

During the yearlong grant period, Ponce and a team at the center’s Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander Data Policy Lab will survey these community-based organizations about their needs and then develop a user-friendly digital tool that enables them to access and utilize detailed information on the key social determinants of NHPI health as part of their advocacy efforts and programs.

“The grant will enable the NHPI Data Policy Lab team to bring much-needed data to organizations who are providing a wide breadth of on-the-ground resources and aid to this historically underserved community — in places where they live, work, go to school and socialize,” said Ponce, who is also a professor of health policy and management at the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health and principal investigator for the health policy center’s California Health Interview Survey.

Providing the community with access to “disaggregated” health data — data broken down by racial and ethnic subgroups — is particularly crucial for Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders, whose reported data has historically been bundled within broader ethnic and racial categories, Ponce said. This can hide the particular challenges faced by the NHPI community — who, for example, have had the highest COVID-19 infection and death rates of any racial or ethnic group in California and several other states — and result in a lack of desperately needed aid.

The NHPI Data Policy Lab was launched in August 2020 to address these gaps in national COVID-19 data reporting and research for NHPIs and to encourage more U.S. states to report disaggregated cases. With the new grant, the lab will be able to continue its expansion beyond these pandemic-related efforts. In addition to creating the new data platform, lab members will develop and lead trainings on data access and analysis, working directly with NHPI community groups to ensure they have the tools and resources they need.

“As a Sāmoan woman in public health, one of the most rewarding aspects of the lab has been working with community organizations,” said Karla Thomas, the lab’s policy director and co-founder and a UCLA alumna. “This grant will help us continue our dedicated efforts to healing the community not only from the pandemic but other long-standing health issues.”