Updated: April 15, 2020 11:55 PM
Created: April 15, 2020 06:35 PM
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — New Mexico’s tribal communities have been disproportionately impacted by COVID-19.
New statewide data shows that more than 36% of all positive cases in New Mexico are Native Americans.
“A large part of our increases is still in those counties that have a higher than other counties’ percentage of population that is Native American,” said Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham during a Tuesday press conference.
Across the country, public health experts said the pandemic highlights racial inequality.
“COVID-10 has not created these inequities themselves—it is simply becoming a magnifying glass that helps us to see some longstanding shortfalls in health that have existed for minority populations,” said David Marshall, a public health professor at Harvard.
Many people living in tribal communities have limited access to electricity and running water, but Professor Marshall said there’s also a baseline problem— inadequate funding for where many Native Americans seek health care.
“The Indian Health Service is a program funded by the federal program,” Marshall said. “if you look at every program that provides health care, the per capita funding is lowest for the Indian Health Service than it is for Medicaid, the VA, any other program in the United States—it receives the lowest per person funding.”
Amid the pandemic, the state is delivering resources and thousands of meals to tribal communities.
“In the Navajo Nation, where there isn't access to food or water within a 100 mile radius, we have to take the responsibility to provide those necessary items,” the governor said.
While these communities are in need of help right now, some public health experts said this pandemic should be a wakeup call when it comes to racial inequality in public health.
“There's a lot that could be done and needs to be done to ensure both economic opportunity again as well as good access to health care for all Native Americans,” Marshall said.
The health department said they have conducted extensive testing in Native American communities where virus clusters exist, which may partly explain the disproportionate number of cases.
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