Doctors Without Borders Aids Navajo Nation In Fighting Coronavirus

May 14, 2020

When you think about Doctors Without Borders you may picture the medical humanitarian NGO working in war-torn countries like Syria or Yemen. But as the COVID-19 crisis lays bare inequalities and vulnerabilities in the U.S., the organization's working here, too, assisting the Navajo Nation in fighting the disease.

"As we followed the trends and the caseloads and the incidents of the disease in the United States, we saw that the Navajo Nation was very hard hit by this outbreak," said Dr. Carolina Batista, who's leading the organization's medical response. She says they're working closely with tribal and federal health organizations there. 

As of Wednesday there had been about 3,400 confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus and 119 deaths reported by the Navajo Nation. As NPR reports, if the reservation were a state, it would have the highest rate of cases per capita after New York.

Many people who live on the reservation, the largest in the U.S., lack access to clean running water. That makes handwashing and preventative hygiene difficult. Batista says tribal members are also more prone underlying health conditions, which increases the risk of complications from the virus. 

"I think what COVID is teaching all of us is that there's no way to respond in an isolated way," Batista said. "We have to collaborate, we have to work in partnership with different organizations that are working on the ground."

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUNR in Nevada, the O'Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West in Montana, KUNC in Colorado, KUNM in New Mexico, with support from affiliate stations across the region. Funding for the Mountain West News Bureau is provided in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

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