Native American tribes thwarted in efforts to obtain coronavirus data


This has left the UIHI and other tribal epidemiology centers without access to basic data on the spread of the coronavirus nationwide, hampering efforts to track the disease in Native American populations and understand how and why it is killing people. tribal citizens in some areas at disproportionate rates.

Indigenous people have a higher Covid-19 death rate than whites, Asians and Latinos, according to an analysis by the APM Research Lab. And in hard-hit New Mexico, Native Americans account for nearly 60% of coronavirus deaths, but only 8.8% of the population.

Indian Health Service chief medical officer Michael Toedt last month said on a press call that his agency and the CDC have a mechanism to resolve disputes over data sharing between tribal organizations and ministries of health. But a spokesperson for the CDC said he was unaware of any complications related to data sharing and pointed to how the agency sent 15 experts to the Navajo Nation to help with epidemiology and contact tracing.

“If you can’t measure [the coronavirus,] you can’t handle it, ”said Stacy Bohlen, executive director of the National Indian Health Board, which provides policy expertise to the 560 federally recognized Native American tribes. “This is another chronic failure of what Indians experience throughout the health care system. We know this is happening across the country.

Tribal leaders have also encountered roadblocks at the local level. The Bay Mills Indian community in northern Michigan was unable to obtain Covid-19 data from surrounding Chippewa County after one of its members who worked as a guard at a local jail reported being in contact extended with a patient with coronavirus. It took a confrontation with the state before the tribal chiefs secured an agreement to share disease surveillance information with the state corrections service.

“It was a rather heated exchange with the State, [we] says you’re not an island, ”said Bryan Newland, president of the Bay Mills Indian community. “Your officers check in and walk into the community, we need to be aware of that stuff. “

Newland said Chippewa County continued to refuse to reach an agreement with the tribe on surveillance and contact tracing. County officials did not return repeated requests for comment.

“We never took the time to foster a working relationship with our local health department,” Newland said. “There has never been a chance to think much about our relationship and how to foster it.”

This spring, Massachusetts state officials raised privacy concerns by denying a request for coronavirus data from the Wampanoag tribe of Gay Head / Aquinnah, which had asserted its right as a federally recognized nation and was trying to help Covid-19 patients discharged from hospitals, said tribe president Cheryl Andrews-Maltais.

The tribe persisted, only to learn that the state grouped Native American patients with those of other racial categories. Although he has since gotten a more in-depth breakdown, the delay has left the tribe blind, she said.

Massachusetts is one of at least two dozen states that lump Native Americans into an “other” racial category for its coronavirus data, or do not track Native American cases or deaths at all. The group includes New York and New Jersey, which are among the largest urban concentrations of American Indians in the United States.

The tribal chiefs attribute the difficulties in accessing data to a lack of knowledge of the functioning of Amerindian communities and to the lack of interest of local authorities in working with them.

Tribal organizations are supposed to deal directly with the federal government, due to long-standing federal fiduciary obligations that established them as sovereign entities.

But the Trump administration has widely asked tribes to work with state and local authorities on coronavirus issues, including securing medical supplies and coordinating response efforts.

This left the tribes trying to forge new relationships during a public health crisis. The Indian Health Service – the primary federal agency responsible for caring for American Indians and Alaska Natives – does not keep data on hospitalizations or death rates for signs of emerging epidemics, said Fawn Sharp, President of the National Congress of American Indians.

Sharp listed these and other challenges last week during a briefing by the House coronavirus crisis subcommittee, highlighting the limited number of tests in Native American communities and the systematic misclassification of Native Americans in data from local health.

“The United States has chronically underfunded all sectors of our health and socio-economic life, creating a crisis in the 21st century that deeply affects our public health, our economy and our social life,” she said. declared.

Yet in the hour and a half of discussion that followed, only one lawmaker followed to ask Sharp a question.


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