Global WACh

September 16, 2020

Dr. Keshet Ronen and the Somali Health Board partner to increase COVID-19 testing equity in King County, WA

Congratulation to Dr. Keshet Ronen (Acting Assistant Professor, Global Health) and Dr. Ahmed Ali (Executive Director, Somali Health Board) for receiving a COVID-19 Population Health Equity Grant from the University of Washington to increase access to COVID-19 testing among the Somali community in King County, WA.  Led in partnership with the Somali Health Board, a Somali-led grassroots organization, this project aims to understand barriers to testing in this heavily impacted community and identify approaches to improve health equity in King County’s testing strategy. In King County, residents can receive a COVID-19 test at no cost and are encouraged to get tested immediately if they feel symptoms.  Data across WA state and the U.S. indicate that underrepresented racial and ethnic groups are more likely to become infected with COVID-19 and experience more severe COVID-19 illness that requires hospitalization.  Long-standing health and social inequities driving these disparities also create barriers to testing, such as a lack of testing sites where communities of color live, language barriers, and distrust in the medical system.  In King County, ensuring access to timely testing among Black and immigrant residents is critical to equitable health outcomes and managing the COVID-19 epidemic.

There is limited county-wide testing data reported by race and immigration status, but the Somali Health Board’s preliminary data suggest significant barriers to testing in the Somali community, who make up around 20% of King County’s Black population.  Drs. Ronen and Ali’s project seeks to understand those needs and develop a sustainable strategy to meet them.  Leveraging testing fairs arranged by the Somali Health Board in South King County, in partnership with the local clinics, where the Somali community is concentrated, the project will gather data on prevalence and accessibility to timely testing for this community, and the perspectives of multiple stakeholders (community members, healthcare workers, and policymakers) on testing needs and how they can be integrated into King County’s broader testing strategy.  The project will be reported in a peer-reviewed publication and used to advocate for accessible, culturally appropriate testing services in underserved and immigrant communities.

The project team includes leaders from the Somali Health Board, Dr. Ahmed Ali (Executive Director; pharmacist and community health advocate), Dr. Anisa Ibrahim (Board President; Director of Harborview Medical Center’s pediatric clinic), Farah Mohamed (Board Vice-President; public health professional); and from the University of Washington, Dr. Keshet Ronen, Dr. Kathleen West (Clinical Assistant Professor, Global Health) Abdifatah Abdi and Asiya Ahmed (Undergraduate student, Medical Anthropology and Global Health).