TAHLEQUAH, Okla. — Cherokee Nation Health Services has been awarded a $4.1 million Rapid Acceleration of Diagnostics for Underserved Populations grant through the Native American Research Centers for Health and the National Institutes of Health to assist with COVID-19 testing and contact tracing efforts.
The grant project is known as Cherokee PROTECT and unites tribal, academic and community partners under the leadership of the Cherokee Nation to focus on COVID-19 testing, contact tracing and education in underserved rural populations.
“From the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Cherokee Nation has implemented our response by relying on medical science, facts and compassion. Because of this, our approach to slowing and stopping the spread of COVID-19 in our communities has been at the forefront of governmental and health care response not just in Oklahoma, but in all of Indian Country,” said Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. “Providing ample testing in our communities has been a focus of this approach and we’ve made great strides in our fight against the virus by not only ensuring we have plenty of COVID-19 tests on hand, but by also providing an abundance of safe and easy to access testing locations throughout Northeast Oklahoma. This new funding will provide us with even more opportunities to protect our Cherokee families and help change the course of this pandemic.”
Cherokee PROTECT will allow Cherokee Nation Health Services to expand its existing strengths and infrastructure by increasing COVID-19 viral and antibody testing for clinical care and enabling community-based COVID-19 testing, contact tracing and education within Cherokee Nation Public Health.
“Throughout the Cherokee Nation reservation in northeast Oklahoma, we continue to see confirmed COVID-19 cases and community spread,” said Dr. Sohail Khan, director of Health Research with Cherokee Nation Health Services and project lead for the Cherokee PROTECT program. “Many residents have a statistically higher chance of contracting severe COVID-19 symptoms due to underlying medical conditions. This vulnerability is compounded by economic and geographical barriers. Cherokee Nation Health Services has already begun to combat these issues through extensive testing and contact tracing efforts, and the addition of more than $4.1 million in grant funding will only allow us to make greater strides in these areas.”
The Cherokee PROTECT program will also use grant funding to identify barriers and facilitators to COVID-19 testing within the Cherokee Nation to help inform a tailored, educational effort to increase testing and contact tracing while decreasing the spread of the virus, and will implement a rigorous evaluation to ensure quality improvement and sustainability.
“Thanks to the exceptional team work of Dr. Khan, Cherokee Nation Public Health staff and a dedicated team of our collaborative partners, Cherokee Nation Health Services has been awarded this and numerous other grants that are allowing us to enhance our health care quality, delivery and system as a whole,” said Dr. R. Stephen Jones, executive director of Cherokee Nation Health Services. “We know this newest grant will provide us a new opportunity to combat the spread of COVID-19 throughout our Cherokee communities.”
Cherokee Nation Health Services has reported about 4,500 positive cases of COVID-19 in its health system as of Nov. 16.