Sponsored by the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA), their Oncology Center of Excellence hosted a virtual event exploring the anti-Asian racism against AAPI communities in relation to the spread of COVID-19. Specifically, three moderators from the Center hosted several featured speakers in an informal discussion of racism and healthcare, the speakers’ research and experiences with disparities and barriers in medical care for AAPI populations, and other similar topics. 

The moderators included:

  • Richard Pazdur, MD: Director of the Oncology Center of Excellence
  • Rea Blakey: Associate Director for External Outreach and Engagement, Oncology Center of Excellence, US Food and Drug Administration
  • Jennifer Gao, MD: Medical Oncologist and Associate Director for Education, Oncology Center of Excellence, US Food and Drug Administration

The featured speakers included:

  • Richard J. Lee, MD, PhD:  Assistant Professor of Medicine, Harvard Medical School, Clinical Director of the Claire and John Bertucci Center for Genitourinary Cancers
  • Van Ta Park, PhD, MPH: Associate Professor, University of California, San Francisco (UCSF), School of Nursing, Department of Community Health Systems
  • Ravi Madan, MD: Clinical Director, Genitourinary Malignancies Branch, Center for Cancer Research, National Institutes of Health, National Cancer Institute
  • Moon Chen, PhD, MPH: Professor and Associate Director, Community Outreach/Engagement, UC Davis Comprehensive Cancer Center, Sacramento, California
  • Tracy Sun: Community Engagement Manager, Asian and Pacific Islander American Health Forum (APIAHF)
  • Susan Matsuko Shinagawa: Cancer Survivor/Advocate & Community Health Activist Co-Founder & Past Chair Asian & Pacific Islander National Cancer Survivors Network

When talking about his research and work in community engagement and outreach, Dr. Moon Chen said “Asian Americans are not hard to reach, we are hardly reached.” He also commented that the Asian American “burden is unspoken,” referring to the lack of data on health statistics and health care for AAPI communities across the country. Dr. Van Ta Park commented that there was limited data on various health topics and disparities among AAPI populations, and many community members are unaware of this. Tracy Sun added that this issue is exacerbated when AAPI communities are considered as a monolith rather than recognizing the disparities across different ethnic groups. Several of the speakers mentioned ways of moving forward, including conducting research that not only considers the differences in AAPI communities but also educating those communities.

Tracy Sun explained her experience working with AAPI communities and her efforts to increase “vaccine confidence,” saying there is “no one size fits all approach in these efforts.” There are many different strategies, especially because of all of the different ethnic groups in the communities. Most of the speakers also delved into their experiences with anti-Asian hate and discrimination, especially since COVID began, as well as some of their patients’ stories. Tracy Sun said anti-Asian violence is affecting these communities’ beliefs and faith in COVID-related care and vaccines specifically. Dr. Richard Lee stated that there have been many anti-Asian comments to both doctors and patients at his hospital, and that this has been greatly magnified since COVID. Dr. Ravi Madan made a similar comment and said people had asked if they could have doctors with names they can pronounce or have American doctors.

Susan Matsuko Shinagawa told her story of being a 30-year cancer survivor after 3 cancer diagnoses. The first doctor that she asked to do a biopsy to test for breast cancer told her no because she had no family history, was too young, and “Asian women don’t get breast cancer.” She finally found another doctor who eventually did a biopsy and found out she did in fact have breast cancer.

The speakers also discussed how AAPI community leaders should be advocating for measures to reduce some of the cultural and language barriers that can make doctor-patient relationships difficult. Susan Matsuko Shinagawa stated that it is helpful to have “community navigators” as they are from the same community, speak the same language, and understand the cultural aspects of a community that a patient may be concerned about. Unfortunately, several speakers clarified that this work is essential yet is extremely underfunded. Tracy Sun argued that there needs to be more investment in these community infrastructures, including health literacy and education. Ultimately, she said it is important to recognize the work of community-based organizations and health care workers because they play vital roles in communities. 

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