Tribes in North and South Dakota struggle during pandemic with limited access to health care

Limited health care resources are hurting communities across both states.
Published: Oct. 21, 2020 at 10:46 AM CDT
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SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (Dakota News Now) -

Getting necessary treatments for other ailments during the pandemic is difficult, but it is especially hard for Native Americans in North and South Dakota, who were struggling with a lack of access to proper medical treatment before the pandemic.

“Generally speaking, the Indian health service is underfunded, so we don’t have funding for various treatments that we need or even things like a cancer screening, so for example, for a breast cancer screening, we need a mammography, for a colon cancer screening we need a colonoscopy, but we don’t have those types of services available in most of the community,” said Dr. Donald Warne, Director of Indians Into Medicine at UND.

Dr. Warne says that there is a great concern as COVID numbers continue to rise in the area that could lead to more health care disparity in the future.

“We already have a community that’s at greater risk for worse health outcomes and less access to services, and then the issues with access to services are exacerbated, even more, so we don’t know what the long term outcome might be, but many of us are quite certain that the cancer disparities that we’re already witnessing will get worse,” said Dr. Warne.

He added that a way to fix the lack of health care for Native Americans in the state is better funding for Indian Health Servies, a right that the community deserves thanks to federal treaties.

“We’re actually the only population born with a legal right to health services, and that’s based on our treaties in which we exchanged vast amounts of land and natural resources for various social services like housing, education, and health care, so that’s why there’s a bureau of Indian affairs that’s why there’s Indian Health Services, so we have a treaty right to health services,” said Dr. Warne.

Dr. Warne added that slowing the spread of the virus is a way to allow for more openings in clinics for care and less danger to patients trying to weigh the decision between risking exposure to the coronavirus as a high-risk patient or avoiding life-saving treatment. The best way to do this is to wear a mask, continue washing hands and using hand, and social distancing.

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