Nā Pu‘uwai, “The Many Hearts,” was initially formed in 1984 as a community-based Native Hawaiian advisory board to work on a project that researched the effects of salt in the diet of fifty (50) indigenous peoples around the world and its cardiovascular (CVD) effects on native populations.
The study, conducted by the World Health Organization (WHO), selected Native Hawaiians as one of the indigenous groups that became study participants. The project lead was the University of Hawaii’s School of Public Health. Dr. Jesse Curb (UHM-School of Public Health) and Dr. Richard Kekuni Blaisdell (UHM John A. Burns School of Medicine) collaborated and looked for a predominantly Native Hawaiian community that would serve as the test site. Dr. Blaisdell selected Moloka‘i, especially since the majority of the population (aside from Niihau Island) was Native Hawaiian.
The project subsequently became the 1985 Moloka‘i Heart Study (MHS) and received initial funding from WHO. Additional funding was secured through a grant from the Office of Hawaiian Affairs (OHA). The MHS began its operations at the Hoolehua Community Recreational Center on Moloka‘i in that same year.
The initial MHS Advisory Committee consisted of Moloka‘i residents Dr. Noa Emmett Aluli, Jane Lee, Helen Kanawaliwali O’connor, Wilma Joy, and William Akutagawa. A summary of the MHS results can be found in the American Journal of Medicine.
Following the Moloka‘i Heart Study, Nā Pu‘uwai applied for and received federal recognition in 1986 as a 501(c)(3) non- profit entity dedicated to researching chronic diseases affecting Native Hawaiians and improving their health.
In 1987, the Moloka‘i Diet Study (Ho‘oke ‘Ai) was established and tracked the effects of the traditional and the contemporary diet on blood cholesterol levels using ten (10) participants from the Moloka‘i Heart Study.
In 1987, as a proposed act was being prepared to go through the legislative process of the United States Congress, the Office of Senator Dan Inouye requested that Native Hawaiian organizations interested in providing health services to their populations on each island be organized and prepared to accept pending federal funding. Nā Pu‘uwai was already incorporated as a non-profit and was prepared to take on the task.
After community meetings were held on Moloka‘i (including Kalaupapa) and Lana‘i, the monies became available through the Native Hawaiian Health Care Improvement Act of 1988, and Nā Pu‘uwai began operations in October 1990. The Board of Directors included representatives from four districts on topside Moloka‘i, one from Kalaupapa and one from Lana‘i.
In 1992, the Native Hawaiian Health Care Improvement Act was reauthorized by Congress for an additional ten (10) years and has since been attached to the American Indian Health Act with its own funding. Also in 1992, the Nā Pu‘uwai mission statement was formalized:
To improve the health conditions of Native Hawaiians on Moloka‘i and Lana‘i by maximizing their capacity to access and influence the establishment of a health care system responsive to and respectful of their cultural beliefs and practices.
(Its philosophic base refers to the Native Hawaiian Health Care Act which charges our system of health care delivery to access as many Native Hawaiians as possible into the present health care provided by trained medical professionals who also take into account traditional ‘Ohana (extended family) values, spiritual beliefs, and mana (personal power) equal to and complimentary to contemporary medicine).