Established in 1999, SAPHA is the premier organization dedicated to addressing public health issues impacting South Asians in the United States. Our mission is to promote the health and well-being of South Asian communities by advancing the field of South Asian public health through interactions among health professionals and shared resources, focusing on research, education, communication, and advocacy.
History & Background
Ten dedicated individuals established SAPHA in the spring of 1999 in an effort to raise awareness about public health issues of South Asians at a national level. In 2001, SAPHA was formalized with the formation of a Board of Directors and attained a 501(c)3 non-profit status.
In 2002, SAPHA received national level recognition with the release of its ground-breaking report entitled, A Brown Paper: The Health of South Asians in the United States. The Brown Paper represents reviewed research and literature on South Asian health in the U.S. to document health disparities as well as highlight the importance of this understudied group in health research. In 2017, the Brown Paper was updated and augmented and published as a comprehensive book, Health of South Asians in the United States.
SAPHA is the premier organization dedicated to serving the public health needs of South Asian communities and has been recognized in a variety of ways for its ongoing work. SAPHA embraces a holistic view of health as per the World Health Organization (WHO) definition:
“Health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.” 
Like other organizations involved in public health, SAPHA supports the notion that a population-based approach – centered on principles of prevention, equity and leadership – is the optimal means to improving the well-being of people and the communities in which they live. Further, SAPHA embraces the full spectrum of population-based health as laid out by the Institute of Medicine (IOM) defining public health as:
“What we as a society do collectively to assure the conditions in which people can be healthy.” 
SAPHA is comprised of a diverse array of committed leaders involved in every facet of public health. From theory to practice, from teaching to learning, from prevention to response, SAPHA professionals have subject matter expertise in a variety of areas: chronic disease, mental health, health systems, wellness, refugee/international health, health equity, public health emergency preparedness, administration and management, and a myriad of other public health-related topics.
Who are the South Asians in America that SAPHA is dedicated to serving? South Asians are a wide group of persons representing all walks of life, vocations, religions, and interests, who are bound by a common ancestry and history. South Asians are either directly themselves from South Asia or have ancestry in the region. This region includes: Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka. In turn, the four largest South Asian groups in America are the Indian, Pakistani, Bangladeshi, and Sri Lankan communities, respectively. Equally important to note, the South Asian population in America is rapidly growing. For example, between 2000 and 2010, South Asians became the fastest growing major ethnic group in the U.S. According to the 2010 U.S. Census, there are over 3.4 million South Asians living in America. 
The South Asian community in America is diverse. The earliest South Asian immigrants came to the U.S. as farm laborers and migrant workers in the 1920s, followed by professionals pursuing educational and occupational opportunities in the 1960s. More recent immigrants have come as a result of family reunification policies and as computer professionals. South Asians represent many religions (e.g., Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, Jainism, Judaism, Sikhism, and Zoroastrianism), and speak a variety of languages (such as Bengali, Gujarati, Hindi, Punjabi, Tamil, and Urdu). SAPHA invites you to learn more about the incredible diversity of South Asians and our respective cultures – our communities are vibrant and rich, full of energy and busy with activity. Truly, South Asians are a reflection of the diverse fabric of modern-day America!
Given the size of South Asian populations in America, SAPHA strongly believes improving the health of South Asian communities is critically important to furthering the overall health of our nation. Yet, serving South Asian communities means that one must understand the challenges and assets of culture, language, limited English proficiency, religion, beliefs, and customs. The need for South Asian-specific policy-making, culturally appropriate programs, and education/outreach remain critical areas for success. SAPHA remains committed to working in partnership with others to ensure the South Asian community’s public health needs are addressed.
SAPHA’s goals are two-fold: (1) to address the public health needs of South Asians and their communities in America; and (2) to further the professionalism, training, and networking of SAPHA professionals. SAPHA has a long tradition of distinguished work in the field of South Asian public health. Among our accomplishments are:
- Advancing data and research on South Asian public health issues in various settings;
- Advocating for informed policy-making on South Asian public health issues;
- Improving the awareness of public health needs of South Asians in America;
- Building partnerships with other organizations interested in South Asian health issues; and
- Fostering opportunities for networking and career advancement among SAPHA members.
We invite you to review these accomplishments and work with us as we continue in our efforts. While much has been accomplished, significant amount of work remains. We invite you to join us in meeting our common goal of improving the health of South Asians and the communities within which they live.
(1) Preamble to the Constitution of the World Health Organization as adopted by the International Health Conference, New York, 19-22 June, 1946; signed on 22 July 1946 by the representatives of 61 States (Official Records of the World Health Organization, no. 2, p. 100) and entered into force on 7 April 1948.
(2) The Institute of Medicine. The Future of the Public’s Health in the 21st Century. Washington, DC: National Academies Press; 2003: xiv.
(3) Asian American Federation, A Demographic Snapshot of South Asians in the United States; July 2012 Update. Accessed June 8, 2015.