Since 1981, the Arizona Department of Health Services, Bureau of Women’s and Children’s Health has conducted an assessment of the health and well-being of women and children in Arizona every five years.
This year for the first time, the Arizona Department of Health Services partnered with the Navajo Native American Research Center for Health (NARCH) to fund a Navajo Nation Maternal and Child Health (MCH) Assessment on the Navajo Nation reservation. The Navajo NARCH is led by Diné College in collaboration Northern Arizona University’s Center for Health Equity Research (CHER).
The groundbreaking Navajo Nation specific 72-page report analyzing data from agencies within Navajo Nation will be included in the Bureau of Women’s and Children’s Health’s final 2020 Arizona Maternal Child Health Needs Assessment report.
Other partners, the Navajo Nation Epidemiology Center and the Navajo Nation Pregnancy Risk Assessment Monitoring System (PRAMS), provided reports on the health of women and children on the Navajo Nation to include in the analysis.
“Our goal is to improve the health and well-being of mothers and children here on the Nation,” said Amber-Rose Waters, project manager in Diné College’s Public Health program. “We listened to the voices of parents, grandparents, teens, elders, and others in order to make this report as complete and useful as possible.”
This effort was led by Dine College under the direction of Mark Bauer, professor of Science, Math and Technology. Other members of the Diné College team were Ms. Waters, Christopher Dickerson, faculty in Diné College Public Health program and Greg Manning, consultant.
Nicolette Teufel-Shone, associate director of CHER and a professor in NAU’s Department of Health Sciences, led an NAU team including Kristen Tallis and Marissa Tutt, both recent NAU Master of Public Health graduates, and Kelly McCue, CHER senior program coordinator.
The NAU team conducted listening sessions to document Navajo citizens’ use and opinions of MCH services within Navajo Nation. Between February and March 2020, this team collected statements from 120 parents and other caregivers as well as adolescents living on the Navajo Nation to learn what mattered to them about their health and the health of their families and community.
Their questions and analysis were guided by a holistic, Navajo perspective of health based on Sa’ah Naagháí Bik’eh Hózhóón, or balance, which includes kinship, the environment, and personal and community health.
Assessment built from listening session results
From the listening sessions, the team found that adolescent participants were most concerned with safety and order as a top priority for Navajo Nation leadership. Adolescents also suggested expanding healthcare centers and services, healthy food outlets, and sustainable land use planning initiatives in the Navajo Nation.
Adult caregivers thought their health would improve if their leaders and policies prioritized funding for future housing, healthy food options and mental health services.
The Diné College and NAU team also interviewed healthcare providers on the Navajo Nation in April and May of 2020. Healthcare providers recommended more programs dedicated to mental health, substance use, domestic violence family services, and healthy lifestyle practices.
The report documents recent reductions in substance abuse on the Navajo Nation. The resulting data also indicated declining rates of sickness and premature mortality.
“This is good news,” said Ramona Antone-Nez of the Navajo Epidemiology Center. “We can also see areas that need improvement. There is a need for more support for breastfeeding mothers, better access to services for kids with special needs, and better prenatal, infant, child, and adolescent care.”
“The 2020 Navajo MCH Assessment Report will guide the future development and modification of health promotion programs and policies designed to assure children and their families have the resources to stay healthy,” Teufel-Shone said.
The report is available on the CHER website and at Navajo Nation Department of Health Epidemiology Center website.