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Pandemic priorities: food and health

Communities collaborate around access to quality health care, local food and water

While Haiti has reported fewer coronavirus cases than many of its neighbors, official numbers are now reaching the high hundreds (with expert speculation putting the actual figure in the thousands). In March, the Mirebalais University Hospital, run by Zanmi Lasante, took the country’s first coronavirus patients, and now is bracing for growing demand. This WKKF grantee has prepared a COVID-19 treatment center and is administering tests near the Dominican border. Known for providing free, high quality care, the hospital has increased security and community health workers are trying to sensitize nearby residents given concerns of being targeted by those fearing they are bringing the coronavirus into the community.

In hotels around Gallup, New Mexico – an area being hit the hardest by the pandemic – teams of healthcare workers from around the country and the world, have been working nonstop, treating COVID-19 patients, who have nowhere else to go. Thanks to a partnership from the Indian Health Service, Navajo Nation, New Mexico Department of Health, and the WKKF grantee nonprofit Community Outreach and Patient Empowerment (COPE) program, patients are receiving the care they so desperately need and deserve.

Another WKKF health provider grantee has gotten attention in Haiti’s newspaper of record. As Le Nouvelliste reports, St. Boniface Hospital is playing an important role in southern Haiti, where it is among few facilities to build a COVID-19 treatment center and to effectively gear up for an influx of COVID-19 patients with equipment, staff training and community outreach.

The impacts of the coronavirus reveal complexities about our food system – truths that aren’t new, but are now visible. Farmers are dumping milk, smashing eggs or plowing produce under. At the same time, people line up at food banks, unable to access or afford nutritious food. WKKF alumni fellow Ricardo Salvador, senior scientist and director of the WKKF-funded Food and Environment Program at the Union of Concerned Scientists, recently shared his perspectives on these realities with CounterSpin, a weekly radio program.

For centuries in New Mexico, traditional family farming has provided both food and economic livelihood. And during the pandemic, as restaurants, schools, small grocery stores and processing plants across the state close, they continue to find ways to distribute food to communities – despite causing financial strain. Some family farmers are working through WKKF grantee American Friends Service Committee to sell their produce to food banks. Other local farmers are getting help from the New Mexico Farmers Market Association as they recover from losing small but healthy business during the pandemic. Additionally, this WKKF grantee is partnering with the New Mexico Acequia Association and New Mexico First to organize bulk seed orders for the small farms unable to yet buy seeds,so they can begin planting and ensure they have crops for the upcoming season.  

Even before COVID-19, 40% of U.S. adults said they would have difficulty covering an unexpected $400 expense like a car repair or medical expense. Now, the pandemic is creating additional stresses for people of color, those without a college degree and those who have less income. WKKF alumni fellow and Springboard to Opportunities CEO Aisha Nyandoro joined the Aspen Institute’s Financial Security Program for a timely discussion on direct cash infusions for promoting family stability now and for long-term economic security.  

The Nation ran an in-depth article about the massive Mayan Train project planned to promote Mayan history and culture through 900 miles across southern Mexico. In it, Ernesto Martínez of the Consejo Regional y Popular de Xpujil (CRIPX) expresses concern about the project’s effects on security issues and on existing water shortages and other environmental problems, especially around his home in Calakmul. CRIPX, a WKKF grantee, requested an injunction on the construction on the grounds that the local Indigenous communities had not been adequately consulted. The UN Commission on Human Rights agreed, and a Mexican court partly upheld the injunction.


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