Doctors Without Borders Deploys In the U.S. to Help One Very Vulnerable Community

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Posted: May 13, 2020 12:10 AM

Doctors Without Borders, the international humanitarian organization, is frequently known for its work around the world. The organization typically deploys medical personnel to places like Africa and the Middle East. But the Wuhan coronavirus pandemic has the organization deploying to the United States for the first time ever.

A nine-person medical team – made up of two physicians, three nurse/midwives, a water sanitation specialist, two logisticians and a health promoter who specializes in community health education – have been deployed to the Navajo Nation, CBS News reported.

The Navajo Nation, which sits in parts of Utah, Arizona and New Mexico and spans 27,000 square miles, has been hit particularly hard by the Wuhan coronavirus because of preexisting conditions, like hypertension and diabetes, and the lack of adequate medical care. According to CBS, the Navajo Nation, which is home to around 170,000 people, "has a higher coronavirus death rate than that of 46 states."

According to Fox News, the reservation has had more than 3,120 coronavirus infections and more than 100 deaths. That puts their infection rate at 18 percent.

"There are many situations in which we do not intervene in the United States, but this has a particular risk profile," Jean Stowell, the organization's coronavirus response lead in the United States, told CBS. "Situationally, the Native American communities are at a much higher risk for complications from COVID-19 and also from community spread because they don't have access to the variety of things that make it possible to self-isolate… You can't expect people to isolate if they have to drive 100 miles to get food and water."

The White House Coronavirus Task Force previously warned about those with preexisting conditions, particularly those in minority communities, about the greater likelihood of them contracting the virus. 

One of the greatest challenges with tribal land is the fact that it's a food desert, 33 percent of its residents lack access to running water and social distancing is almost impossible. Those basic resources mean that the Doctors Without Borders team is building critical infrastructure while also addressing the virus.

"The lack of running water complicates things but it's something that's really familiar to us and probably more familiar to us than other NGOs and nonprofits that work in the U.S. Back when we were first speaking to the Navajo leadership, I think they thought we would find that shocking," Stonewall said. "Obviously, we find it very surprising, but it's also work that we know how to do. Water sanitation and infection control go hand-in-hand, but it's something that we know quite a lot about, how to navigate those resources."

The Doctors Without Borders team is currently scheduled to stay at the Navajo Nation through the end of June but they can expand that timeline if need be. 

The Navajo Nation attempted to prevent the spread of the virus at the beginning of April when they implemented a 57-hour lockdown. They extended that lockdown every weekend throughout the month of April and the Navajo Department of Health mandated that everyone on the reservation wear masks while out in public. 

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