Testing kits for rapid detection of novel coronavirus dispatched to protect rural residents

photo by Greg Lincoln

The Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium (ANTHC) is distributing 40 rapid testing machines and 2,400 test kits for diagnosing novel coronavirus throughout communities in rural Alaska, including the Yukon Kuskokwim Health Corporation in Bethel, in an effort to help ensure that many remote areas, accessible only by increasingly limited air service, will now have test results for novel coronavirus (COVID-19) the same day a person is tested.

At present our State’s geographically isolated communities wait a week or more for report results as tests are flown to state labs in Anchorage or Fairbanks, or to private out of state labs.

Tribal health systems in Alaska’s rural and remote communities can help save lives, when provided with the necessary tools. Early and broad testing for COVID-19 has been shown to help isolate cases from becoming more widespread throughout a community. Much needed additional units are planned to be delivered to other areas of the state later from other sources, including the Indian Health Service and the State of Alaska.

“Our deepest gratitude goes out to Abbott for recognizing the history and logistical challenges rural Alaska communities face, and for their supply of the ID NOW testing units, where we know testing will have a much greater impact in savings lives and communities for a comparatively insignificant number of tests,” said Andy Teuber, ANTHC Chairman and President. “Testing for COVID-19 is a primary tool in our effort to keep the pandemic out of our Alaska Native communities and we are grateful to Abbott for recognizing the critical importance of this measure, and our staff, who have been working tirelessly to see this effort through to fruition.”

Living with us are generations of Alaska Natives with survival stories of pandemics including the Spanish Flu of 1918-19 where nearly 82 percent or the mortalities were Alaska Native people, the tuberculosis epidemics through the 1950s which was the leading cause of death in Alaska and at one point accounted for more than a third of all mortalities for Alaska Native people, and the 2008-09 H1N1 Flu in which Alaska Natives had four times higher mortality rate.