Things That Matter

Doctors Without Borders Has Deployed To The U.S. For The First Time Ever Because The Government Is Failing Native Tribes

Doctors Without Borders is probably best known for sending its team of medical professionals into harms way. The organization has teams stationed in international conflict zones across Afghanistan, Iran, Sierra Leone, Venezuela, and more than 66 other countries. However, the organization has now sent a team of doctors to the U.S. for the first time in its history to help the Navajo Nation.

Native American tribes have long been neglected by the federal government – and it’s not been any different during the Coronavirus pandemic. The Navajo Nation, lacking proper funding and resources, has become a major hotspot for the virus in the U.S.

For the first time in its history, Doctors Without Borders is operating in the U.S.

Jean Stowell, head of the organization’s U.S. COVID-19 Response Team, told CBS News that a team of nine had been sent to the hard-hit Navajo Nation to help combat the growing crisis there. The team consists of two physicians, three nurses, a water sanitation specialist, two logisticians and a health promoter who specializes in community health education.

“There are many situations in which we do not intervene in the United States, but this has a particular risk profile,” Stowell said.

One in three people in the Navajo Nation are estimated to not have access to running water, and because not much grows in the area, communities are heavily dependent on outside help for food.

Stowell also pointed out that Native American communities are already at a much higher risk for complications from Covid-19 because they don’t have access to the variety of things that make it possible to self-isolate. She added: “You can’t expect people to isolate if they have to drive 100 miles to get food and water.” 

The Navajo Nation now has the highest per capita rate of Coronavirus infection in the U.S.

Credit: Kristin Murphy / Getty

The Navajo Nation, which spreads across large swaths of Arizona and New Mexico, is home to about 170,000 people. And the tribe now has more coronavirus cases per capita than any state in the U.S. with about 1,786 cases per 100,000 people. It also has a shortage of medical professionals, and its people have high rates of diabetes and hypertension, which can make them more vulnerable to the virus.

The Washington Post reported that as of Sunday, the largest tribe in the U.S. now has upwards of 3,122 cases of Covid-19 in the area, and more than 100 people have died.

Many in the tribe are particularly worried about the elders of Navajo Nation because they are at high risk for COVID-19 and in charge of preserving the tribe’s language and culture. And due to a shortage in nursing and specialized medical staff, the most critical patients have to be airlifted to hospitals outside of the reservation. 

Doctors Without Borders is stepping in to help, where the U.S. federal government has failed.

Credit: Kristin Murphy / Getty

Although the CARES Act, which President Trump signed into law on March 27, allocated $8 billion in relief funding to tribes across the country, it’s seen as too little too late by many.

Meanwhile, the infrastructure in place is so weak that volunteers have had to step in to distribute much-needed supplies.

The Doctors Without Borders team is planning on staying in the area until at least the end of June, but the teams says that they are able to stay longer if the situation continues to badly affect the communities.

“When we’re looking at the epidemiologic curves from the rest of the world, we know that this is a long haul,” Stowell told CBS News.

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