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Iowa immigrant and refugee-led groups team up to address health inequalities

 Experts are urging Iowans to get vaccinated before the Thanksgiving holiday.
Experts are urging Iowans to get vaccinated before the Thanksgiving holiday.

Several refugee and immigrant-lead groups in Iowa have teamed up to address health inequities that have been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Refugee and Immigrant Vaccine Alliance, or RIVA, consists of Nisaa African Family Services, Latinx Immigrants of Iowa, ArtForce Iowa, the Iowa Coalition Against Domestic Violence and Ethnic Minorities of Burma Advocacy and Resource Center, or EMBARC.

The need for RIVA arose when it became apparent that Iowa’s immigrant and refugee communities continue to be disproportionately affected by the pandemic, said Maria Corona, the executive director of the Iowa Coalition Against Domestic Violence.

"We are still waiting to see what are the resources and support from systems and from leadership in the state to respond to our community's needs," she said. "And so that's why we've come together."

The pandemic affected many of the state's food service workers, particularly those who work in meat processing plants, which employs many foreign-born workers.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that populations that identify as Black, Latino or Hispanic, American Indian and Alaska Native have experienced higher rates of COVID hospitalizations and deaths than non-Hispanic white populations.

According to Census data, 5.4 percent of Iowans identify as foreign-born, and 8.4 percent speak a language other than English at home.

RIVA will first focus on improving information and access to COVID-19 vaccinations before moving onto other health issues, Corona said.

"Our communities haven't been informed in their language and haven't been reached out to through cultural lenses," she said.

Corona said the alliance is still inviting other immigrant and refugee-focused organizations to join.

Copyright 2022 Iowa Public Radio. To see more, visit Iowa Public Radio.

Natalie Krebs is the health reporter for Iowa Public Radio.