Increasing MENA Representation in Health Research

July 9, 2018


Look around you.

Do you hear people speaking in different languages?
Do you see people practicing different cultural traditions? Do you see people observing different religions?

Although the United States is just one country, it is home to an entire world of countries and communities.

Our schools, sports teams, and streets represent those communities.

However, we have not captured the information we need to serve such diverse groups of people. The U.S. Census, for example, does not have a separate racial or ethnic option for those of Arab, Middle-Eastern, or North African descent. This distinct lack of representation leaves many marginalized and underserved by limiting the knowledge that policy-makers, foundations, organizations, and health services agencies have on these groups.

For over 25 years, the Arab-American Family Support Center (AAFSC) has supported immigrants and refugees, specializing in cultural and linguistic competency among Arab, Middle Eastern, Muslim, and South Asian (AMEMSA) communities. At AAFSC, we prioritize providing a platform for our communities’ voices and respond to the ever-evolving community needs. We intimately recognize the need for more accurate data about AMEMSA communities – greater understanding will bring greater appreciation and cultural competency.

It is time that all sectors of human services open their arms to everyone. When a nation has such a variety of communities, we need to be fully engaged and aware of everyone’s needs, cultural competencies, challenges, and strengths.

As such, we are thrilled that the National Institutes of Health has implemented the All ofUS Research Program to increase knowledge about the health and lifestyles of our communities.

The All of Us Research Program is paving the way for a more inclusive and representative data collection by adding a MENA category, which recognizes Middle Eastern and North African people in capturing health data. While health care normally operates under a ‘one size fits all’ approach, we know that a more comprehensive understanding of individuals’ lifestyles, environments, and biological makeup will help us better understand the root causes of illness and identify more effective ways to treat patients. This is why All of Us is making the recruitment of diverse populations one of its top priorities.

At AAFSC, we will always recognize and support our communities. However, we cannot support immigrant and refugee communities alone. We need your help too. We need everyone to embrace the diversity in our country. We’re excited for the All of Us Research Program to set the stage for more inclusive data collection moving forward.