New app created by U of M researchers gives Indigenous people voice during COVID-19 pandemic

·3 min read

An app created by University of Manitoba researchers will give Indigenous community members a voice during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The COVID-19 Indigenous app, now available for download on iOS and Android, permits local health directors to gather information through questionnaires, allowing them to roll out effective programming for their communities, including COVID-19 vaccination programs.

Data collected can be used by communities to advocate for policy-making changes concerning COVID-19 and set an example of the effectiveness of digital tools to support and promote Indigenous health and data sovereignty.

“We started working on this initiative in April 2020. The more we got into it, the more we saw that there was a need for First Nations to collect their own data,” said Dr. Myrle Ballard, one of the co-leads on the COVID-19 Indigenous app initiative on Friday.

“This is an app that is available for all Indigenous communities. It is going to be there for them for long-term use. Health directors can modify the questions as they please according to their needs.”

In real-time, the app collects responses from participating community members that will help Indigenous leadership better understand their citizen’s emotional, spiritual, mental and physical health.

The app adapts to each community's needs, and only local leaders will have access to their community’s data. Health directors have complete control over their information and can share it with others only if they choose.

“Many Indigenous communities have been hit hard by the virus, and we have seen these communities, especially in times of isolation, feel as if no one is listening to their concerns,” said Evan Chamakese, the Digital Health Outreach Coordinator for this app initiative.

“Sometimes, it takes a toll on their mental health and the well-being of many community members. We are hoping this app reconnects those who would like to reach out to their health directors and their Elders as well.”

A local area network and mobile stations will be provided for remote and isolated communities with unreliable internet access so members can connect to the app.

On Thursday, Feb. 18, a webinar will be held on COVID-19 Indigenous’ Facebook page to teach app users to properly navigate the tool and learn more about its function.

During their pilot project, community members that participated in this initiative said that the app gave them comfort because they knew that the information they provide will be shared with health directors to better the community.

Although the app’s main purpose is to collect data about their participants during COVID-19, it can be used by health officials and leadership after the pandemic to collect information for day-to-day operations.

The app was developed as part of the wider Kitatipithitamak Mithwayawin research project for Indigenous citizens to hold ownership and control over their health and well-being.

While the COVID-19 Indigenous app is primarily developed with and for Indigenous communities in Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta and Northwest Ontario, Chamakese hopes to expand this initiative across Canada and to other countries as well.

“This app is a game-changer,” said Stephane McLachlan, a co-lead on the digital app initiative.

“It will provide information that can help support Indigenous communities as they work towards health sovereignty, and as they strive to address the many systemic and ongoing gaps in government funding and support regarding health.”

Nicole Wong is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of the Winnipeg Sun. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.

Nicole Wong, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Winnipeg Sun