Straddling the borders of Arizona, Utah and New Mexico, the Navajo Nation (the size of West Virginia), is finally making the headlines in the overwhelming hardships of the COVID – 19 pandemic. While only representing 5 percent of the population of New Mexico, Navajo Nation has suffered with 20 percent of the COVID – 19 cases. According to the New York Times, Navajo Nation, with a population of 175,000, has more cases of COVID – 19 than eight states.
Many physical realities work against Native Americans during a pandemic. While most of the country is busy washing their hands, 30 percent of Navajo Nation has no running water. Many families live in crowded conditions and remain in close physical contact with other families. Inadequate infrastructure has hampered the ability of Native Americans to get to medical appointments; as a result they travel as long as an hour on dirt or gravel roads in New Mexico, and those roads are frequently impassible after heavy rain or snow. Only 1/5 of the roads are paved, and poor road conditions can mean life or death for patients needing regular medical attention, like kidney dialysis. Often, many miss their appointments.
The overarching problem for Native Americans in a health care setting is discrimination. The Cochran Colloquium – Toronto, in its study, “Discrimination in the United States: Experience of Native Americans,” noted that “more than one in five Native Americans (23 percent), reported experiencing discrimination in clinical encounters, while 15 percent avoided seeking health care for themselves or family members due to anticipated discrimination.” Even in a pandemic, it is no surprise that many Native Americans would hesitate to seek medical treatment and face more discrimination.
With the passage of the CARES ACT by Congress, Native Americans are scheduled to receive eight billion dollars for protective equipment, testing, and related services. They faced three problems: delay, delay, delay. The process is slow and complicated.
Like every citizen in the United States, Native Americans will continue to face an unrelenting and deadly pandemic, made more difficult by the effects of crippling poverty, an inadequate and distant health care system, poor education, and inadequate infrastructure
The deadliest disease that Native Americans face is racism. From the racism of the early settlers, to the “Trail of Tears,” to the present reality, racism is stealing lives among our first citizens. Having awareness of racism does not make it go away. Do we have the will to eliminate the disease of racism? There is no vaccine.