Brown Signs Bill to Uncover Health Disparities in API Communities

 Brown Signs Bill to Uncover Health Disparities in API Communities

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When it comes to collecting health and education data, members of the Asian and Pacific Islander (API) communities in California will no longer be lumped into one category, under a bill signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown earlier this week.

The Accounting for Health and Education in Asian and Pacific Islander Demographics (AHEAD) Act is designed to uncover health and education disparities among the API communities so policy makers will be able to make informed decisions on each subgroup’s needs, said Assemblymember Rob Bonta, D-Oakland, who authored the bill. In the area of health, the data collected will reveal information on possible causes of major diseases and leading causes of death in different groups.

“I believe good data drives good policy,” Bonta said in a press release after the bill was signed. “One way to get good data is through disaggregation. Disaggregating data means breaking it down into small subgroups and assisting specific trends that were previously hidden.”

Bonta pointed out that there is tremendous diversity in the API community in California. There are more than 23 distinct communities within the Asian America population and 19 within the Native Hawaiin and Pacific Islander population.

Under the AHEAD Act (AB 1726), the Department of Public Health will collect and release disaggregated demographic data for the following populations: Bangladeshi, Sri Lankan, Pakistani, Hmong, Malaysian, Indonesian, Taiwanese, Thai, Fijian and Tongan Americans.

The data collected will include among other things rates for major diseases, leading causes of death and pregnancy rates.

Currently, information for Asian subgroups is not readily accessible. For instance, not many know that Hepatitis B is higher in the Chinese community than in other Asian communities.

“While we share some of the same challenges such as language access issue, racial discrimination and obstacles born of immigration, each of our diverse communities has different social and economic outcomes that need to be addressed appropriately,” Bonta said.

Quyen Dinh, executive director of Southeast Asia Resource Action Center, said the increased data “will empower physicians, public health professionals, policy makers and community members to responsibly tailor community-driven solutions that recognize and address the unique needs of our increasingly diverse communities.”

A similar bill authored by Bonta last year sailed through the legislature but was vetoed by Brown. In a letter to the Assembly justifying his action, Brown said that while the bill may yield more information, it may not provide guidance on how to reduce disparity.

Hence, “to focus just on ethnic identity may not be enough,” he said then.