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'SATHI' for South Asians in New Jersey

By Suman Guha Mozumder in New York
March 30, 2009 09:00 IST

The first-ever South Asian Total Health Initiative, a breakthrough programme to provide culturally-competent health care for South Asians in New Jersey, was launched last week.

New Jersey lawmaker Upendra Chivukula and a number of organisations have been credited with giving shape to the programme, launched by the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey, Robert Wood Johnson Medical School.

Organisers coined the name SATHI, which means companion or friend in Hindi, to indicate that health is an important partner in a person's overall well-being.

'By developing a culturally-competent approach to health care, SATHI will significantly improve the quality and delivery of health care and health outcomes for New Jerseyans of South Asian descent,' Chivukula (Democrat, Somerset) and deputy speaker of the NJ Assembly, said.

Nearly 200 people attended last week's launch of SATHI that was addressed by senior state officials and lawmakers including, Heather Howard, New Jersey's Commissioner for Health and Senior Services, Kris Kolluri, CEO, NJ Schools Development Authority, Assemblywoman Joan M Quigley, member of the Assembly Health and Senior Services Committee, Dr Peter S Amenta, Dean, Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, besides Chivukula.

'Today is really an exciting day for the not just the South Asian community but also for those of us in the health and senior services and who are dedicated, like Governor Corzine, to addressing health disparities,' Howard said in her keynote address, adding that it was great to be among so many SATHIs.

Welcoming SATHI as an incredible resource for the department of health, Howard noted that while diversity is one of New Jersey's strengths, it also presents challenges, risks and barriers in health care.

'SATHI recognises that religious beliefs and cultural customs do affect health care decisions of our citizens and providers. Patients need help to understand health risks, health needs and health options. SATHI will help us do that in a culturally-competent way.'

Kolluri, the first Indian-American cabinet member in New Jersey, said this initiative captures, in many ways, the essence of what is going on in the South Asian community. 'I am here as a proponent of what this initiative represents. It recognises the trajectory of the South Asian population within New Jersey and certainly the United States,' Kolluri said.

'It informs perhaps a larger discussion President Obama and certainly Governor Corzine are undertaking of what is the best way to most efficiently and most effectively deliver health care,' he said.

SATHI's co-director, Dr Sunanda Gaur, who along with Dr Naveen Mehrotra developed the concept and goals of SATHI, noted that central New Jersey has the highest concentration of South Asians in the US.

'As one of the most diverse universities in the country dedicated to promoting the cultural-competency and eliminating disparities in health care, UMDNJ is a natural home for a comprehensive research based project addressing the health care needs of the South Asian Diaspora,' Gaur said.

'In the South Asian culture, health care is not a preventive concept, but rather a last resort,' Mehrotra said, adding, 'SATHI will help us educate the community on the importance of preventive health care for our well being.'
Suman Guha Mozumder in New York