In a sponsored story from the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium in the Anchorage Daily News, the tribal response to the COVID-19 pandemic stretches back over 100 years to past disease epidemics, and the toll they took on the tribal populations.

From the story: “During the 19th and 20th centuries, the health of our people had continually deteriorated — primarily, I think, from infectious diseases,” said Vivian Echavarria, vice president for professional and support services at Alaska Native Medical Center.

Smallpox, measles and polio were all devastating to Alaska Native communities, and the Indian Health Service built the original Alaska Native Service hospital in downtown Anchorage in response to an epidemic of tuberculosis. Still, the disease that looms largest among older generations is the influenza pandemic that began in 1918.

“It killed thousands of our Alaska Native people within the space of a few months to a few years,” Echavarria said.

But you don’t even have to go back to the 20th century to find an example of a pandemic impacting Alaska Native people.

“We saw that in the 2008-2009 H1N1 pandemic,” said Alaska Native Medical Center Administrator Dr. Robert Onders. “Alaska Native and American Indian people had four times the ICU rates, hospitalization rates and mortality rates.”

Lack of adequate sanitation, running water and sewer service, lack of housing, multigenerational housing, and overcrowded housing contributed to H1N1′s outsized impact on Alaska’s Indigenous people, and they remain risk factors for COVID-19 as well.

“It isn’t necessarily distant history,” Onders said. “It’s still alive, and it’s carried through the generations.”

To read the rest of the story on ADN, click here.