Story at a glance

  • Doctors Without Borders is sending teams across the country and world to help vulnerable communities during the coronavirus pandemic.
  • Two teams arrived in New Mexico in April to help Native American communities in the area.
  • Native American tribes are reporting high numbers of cases in proportion to their populations.

Two teams from Doctors Without Borders are working with Native American communities in New Mexico to help with the coronavirus outbreak in the region. 


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Also known as Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) in French, the organization told CNN one team arrived in mid-April north of Albuquerque, where they are assisting the Pueblos. Another arrived late April in Gallup, where they are working with the Navajo Nation, the largest tribe in the United States. Both teams plan on staying until June. 

"At the moment, MSF is focusing on providing technical guidance to health care facilities and communities with infection prevention and control. We are also actively engaged with community leaders and other actors to increase access for communities to health promotion and practical education," Jean Stowell, who heads the organization's US Covid-19 response team, told CNN. 

Almost one-third of New Mexicans who contracted COVID-19 were Native American as of April 12, according to one report, in a state where they make up about 11 percent of the population. The Navajo Nation has reported 3,122 confirmed COVID-19 cases as of May 11, more per capita than any other state in the United States. Some tribes have taken drastic measures, closing their borders and adopting strict self-isolation measures to keep the virus out of their communities. 


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But data on coronavirus cases in the Native American community is inconsistent, with some states recording them as "other" in racial breakdowns and others not reporting race at all. The Indian Health Service (IHS) only has data on coronavirus cases from a handful of cities and states, as reporting by tribal and urban programs is voluntary. In total, the IHS reported 5,255 cases of COVID-19 as of May 9. The lack of information has advocates concerned that the community will not receive adequate resources to deal with the outbreak in the Native American community

"We are grateful for any funding that is offered from the federal or state government, but at this point, that has not been a reality.  Not all Tribal Nations are receiving the necessary support that they need to address this pandemic. The grassroots-driven donations of supplies are crucial for communities like ours to mitigate the crisis and lack of federal and state assistance in this matter,” said Verlon Jose, Governor of the Traditional O’odham Leaders, in a statement.

MSF has been providing support to organizations helping vulnerable communities across the country, including in Puerto Rico, and also offers remote support. 

"Historically, the Navajo Nation has not received the same attention and resources as other communities in the US, and that has made it particularly difficult for them to respond to this unprecedented epidemic," Stowell told CNN. 


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Published on May 11, 2020