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Strong Heart Study and American Indian Communities Team Up To Fight COVID-19

Strong Heart Study and American Indian Communities Team Up To Fight COVID-19

Published: Tuesday, November 16, 2021

For 33 years, the NHLBI’s Strong Heart Study has focused on learning why American Indians have one of the highest heart disease rates in the nation—almost double that of the general population. And during that time, it has made important discoveries – confirming, for example, that risk factors like diabetes, high blood pressure, and elevated cholesterol have been driving the alarming numbers.  But when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Strong Heart Study staff took on a new and unexpected role: They helped the American Indian communities fight COVID-19.

For months now, the Study staff—many of whom are American Indian—have volunteered their time and skills to distribute masks, hand out educational materials, and more recently, administer COVID-19 vaccines. Their focus has been on preventing the spread of the virus at the study’s three main field centers in Arizona, Oklahoma, and the Dakotas, where many study participants live. Each Center faces different challenges.

For those involved in Strong Heart – the largest and longest study of heart disease among American Indians – the change made sense. “The Strong Heart Study already had a long-term partnership with tribal communities that focused on conducting research, disseminating findings, and organizing community engagement activities,” said Mona Puggal, M.P.H., NHLBI’s program officer for the study. “The field centers pivoted during the pandemic by using the study’s existing resources and expertise to collaborate with the communities on these public health efforts.” The staff extended these outreach efforts to all the surrounding tribal communities, not just to the Strong Heart Study participants, she added.

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