While healthcare disparities are not new, the COVID-19 pandemic did highlight the persistent and systemic inequities with healthcare in this country, especially for indigenous communities.

The virus has taken a disproportionate toll on many indigenous communities and seeing this critical need and leading from a deep understanding of Tribal Lands and the particular responsibility each Federal entity has to Tribal Nations, Dr. Seh Welch, the senior public health advisor at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) stood up the first-ever public health emergency CDC Tribal Support Section.

“Historically, tribes and services directed to them have been underfunded to meet the indigenous population’s health needs, which spans over the 574 Federally recognized tribes,” Welch said during a NextGov virtual event on Dec.7. “Native communities face significant inequities in healthcare and health status compared to other U.S. populations primarily due to inadequate access to funding.”

A significant component of the CDC Tribal Support Section was to connect tribal nations to CDC information and resources. But to do that, Welch explained, it would be crucial to educate the workforce behind this effort on Tribal cultures and each community’s different and unique needs.

“We trained our consultants in translating science and public health information to plain language, building trust, and coordinating Federal resources to the unique needs of each community,” Welch said.

Additionally, along with educating the CDC workforce on how to communicate and help tribal nations, the CDC also developed resources to help Tribal communities plan, prepare, and respond to COVID-19. Including:

  • CDC COVID-19 Funding for Tribes;
  • COVID-19 Resources for Tribal communities; and
  • CDC Master Plan – Partnering with Tribes to Respond to COVID-19.
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Lisbeth Perez
Lisbeth Perez
Lisbeth Perez is a MeriTalk State and Local Staff Reporter covering the intersection of government and technology.