Tag Archives: Indian country

Coronavirus Risk Higher in Native Rural Areas

“When you start out with health conditions that are worse than a majority … you’re already vulnerable and at risk’. As the coronavirus spread outward from cosmopolitan hot spots it reached the rural Confederated Tribes of Umatilla Indian Reservation on Monday. In due course, it’ll reach more isolated rural areas.” J. Estus, ICT

 

Edward Enoch, Yup’ik, unloads chunks of ice chipped out of a river and hauled home by snow-machine to melt for drinking, washing, and other uses in western Alaska. (Credit- Charles Enoch,)

Excerpt: Coronavirus Risk Compounded in Rural Areas By Joaqlin Estus, ICT

“Unfortunately, indications are rural areas harbor conditions that contribute to higher rates of infection and people getting more sick than in urban areas.

According to the First Nations Development Institute’s report Twice Invisible: Understanding Rural Native America, 54 percent of American Indian and Alaska Native people live in rural and small-town areas on or near reservations.

The Notah Begay III Foundation report Native Strong lists factors in Indian Country that contribute to diabetes and obesity. The same factors affect overall health. They include poverty, low educational attainment, and historical trauma. Housing shortages and overcrowding facilitate the spread of disease. A lack of self determination and cultural activities affect Native health too.

Dalee Sambo Dorough, PhD, Inupiaq, is the chair of the Inuit Circumpolar Council. She said the health of Indigenous people living in rural Arctic Alaska, Canada, Greenland, and Chukotka (in Russia) is compromised by a range of conditions ranging from food insecurity to air pollution.

‘The overall general condition of individual health and wellbeing is contributing to a lower life expectancy,’ Sambo Dorough said. ‘We’ve had a whole history of epidemics that have devastated our communities in the past and tuberculosis being on the rise now, all of these things are compounded with other adverse impacts like climate change that make it really difficult for our communities to even respond to something like the coronavirus.

So when you start out with health conditions that are worse than a majority of the people in the rest of, for example, the United States, you’re already vulnerable and at risk,’ Dorough said…’We have had really decades of lack of public health measures to prevent the spread of disease. And then you add all these other layers including the limited space and capacity to treat patients with severe illness in rural areas,’ said Sambo Dorough.

‘These are matters that are nothing new. And that’s why the Inuit Circumpolar Council calls upon governments to take action to close those gaps.’

No one wants to get that sick, so prevention is key. Covering coughs, staying home when sick, and the CDC recommends, ‘Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds,’ to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Twice as many homes in Indian Country lack running water compared to other Americans. (Credit- Joaqlin Estus)

However, Indian Country has about twice as many homes without running water and flush toilets as other Americans. In its annual report on sanitation deficiencies, the Indian Health Service said of 68,000 American Indian and Alaska Native homes, ‘approximately 7,600 (or 1.9 percent) lack access to a safe water supply and/or waste disposal facilities, compared to less than 1 percent of homes for the US general population.’

Overcrowding is a major factor in the transmission of diseases. Housing shortages can force families to live in small, older homes similar to this one in Kwethluk, Alaska. (Credit- Joaqlin Estus)

Alaskans without piped water can buy water, which even if only ten cents a gallon is too costly for most villagers. Many collect rainwater and chip ice out of rivers and lakes to melt for daily use…When COVID-19 does arrive in Indian Country, some of the places it lands will be areas without long-standing systems of reliable access to primary and specialty care. In some places, it will land amid people living in conditions that contribute to higher rates of infection. Properly handled, however, risk can be minimized.