By Angie Lee
Students in the Asian Pacific American Medical Student Association (APAMSA) are collaborating with multicultural Greek organizations Lambda Phi Epsilon and Sigma Psi Zeta, as well as the Center for Asian Health Research and Education (CARE) at Stanford to raise awareness for health issues that disproportionately impact the Asian/Pacific Islander (API) community. The awareness campaign takes place throughout the month of May, which is API Heritage Month.
The campaign was launched four years ago in partnership with Stanford Team HBV, Stanford Women in Medicine, Queer & Asian and other groups on campus. The movement hosts events to increase discourse about API health issues ranging from hepatitis B to mental and sexual health, in addition to raising funds for various organizations addressing these issues. In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, the campaign has taken an entirely virtual form on Facebook, with infographics, videos, art and live webinars that highlight health inequities affecting the API community.
This year’s campaign also includes raising money for Asian Health Services (AHS), a community health center working with marginalized communities in the Bay Area. Funds raised will pay for masks and personal protective equipment (PPE) for AHS clinics, as well as IT support for their remote providers, according to Sandra Kong ’21, co-lead of the campaign.
Kong said that the COVID-19 crisis makes now an apt time to push the campaign forward.
“We’re really focusing on how this [pandemic] is impacting API health and wellbeing,” Kong said. “Not just in the sense of the disease affecting the individual directly, but also in terms of social impacts of the disease.”
The campaign highlights how the COVID-19 crisis has intensified API mental health issues, including through increased anti-Asian sentiment in the nation as well as the potential difficulties of sheltering at home as a queer Asian individual.
“For API communities, it’s still a little hard to talk about being queer, especially at home,” said Vianno Vo ’21, Associated Students of Stanford University (ASSU) director of mental health and wellness, in one of the campaign’s live webinars, “Quarantining while Queer and Asian.”
Moreover, Asian patients are less likely to communicate with medical professionals about depression, anxiety and other mental health issues, according to Bryant Lin, internal medicine doctor, population health expert and co-director of CARE at Stanford.
This barrier to seeking professional help for mental health issues in API households, according to Vo, can exist due to some individuals’ belief that “‘This should stay within the family. Why would you go out and talk to a stranger about it?’”
While COVID-19 may be bringing light to many API health issues, “this is something that we’ve been experiencing not just at this time, but it’s been in place for decades,” Kong said.
Lin said that more research is needed in the field of API health, citing a study that discovered only 0.17% of NIH grants has been allocated toward researching the API community over the past 26 years.
“The only area we are perhaps overrepresented in is in [the number of] doctors,” Lin said.
Hepatitis B, normal-weight diabetes, liver cancer, non-smoker lung cancer, gastric cancer and differences in approaches to treating depression are among the many issues that have been disproportionately impacting Asians for a long time, according to Lin.
“There are tons of issues, and this may be a many, many lifetimes project,” he said.
In the meantime, Stanford API Health Awareness Month offers various resources to the greater community with a packed calendar of events, including upcoming COVID-19 community conversations, as well as the “[email protected]” Stanford Medicine virtual concert series co-hosted by Lin.
“This is a time when you’re separated from people physically, so the need for connection is all the more important,” Lin said. “Music is really a common cultural touchstone for everyone, Asians and non-Asians. It’s amazing how music can bring us together in a time of strife and division.”
Kong hopes the online campaign will have long-lasting impacts on the API health community.
“Mainly, we just want people to be aware that this is an existing resource, and the great thing is that it can just stay there forever,” she said.