COVID-19 and Indigenous peoples

We urge Member States and the international community to include the specific needs and priorities of indigenous peoples in addressing the global outbreak of COVID 19.

—  Chair of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, Anne Nuorgam.

UNPFII CollageThe coronavirus  (COVID-19)  pandemic  poses  a grave  health threat to Indigenous peoples around the world. Indigenous communities already experience poor access to healthcare, significantly higher rates of communicable and non-communicable diseases, lack of access to essential services, sanitation,  and  other key  preventive measures, such as  clean water, soap, disinfectant, etc. Likewise,  most  nearby  local medical facilities, if and when there are any, are often under-equipped and under-staffed. Even when  Indigenous peoples are able to access healthcare services,  they can face stigma and  discrimination.  A key factor is to ensure these services and facilities are provided in indigenous languages, and as appropriate to the specific situation of Indigenous peoples.

Indigenous peoples’ traditional lifestyles are a source of their resiliency, and can also pose a threat at this time in preventing the spread of the virus.  For example, most indigenous communities regularly  organize large traditional gatherings to mark special events e.g. harvests, coming of age ceremonies, etc.  Some indigenous communities also live in multi-generational housing,  which  puts Indigenous peoples and their families, especially the Elders,  at risk.

As the number of COVID-19 infections rises worldwide, as well as the high mortality rates among  certain vulnerable groups  with underlying health conditions, data on the rate of infection in Indigenous  peoples are either not yet available (even where reporting and testing are available), or not recorded by ethnicity. Relevant information about infectious diseases and preventive measures is also not available in indigenous languages.

Indigenous peoples experience a high degree of socio-economic marginalization and are at disproportionate risk in public health emergencies, becoming even more vulnerable during this global pandemic, owing to factors such as their lack of access to effective monitoring and early-warning systems, and adequate health and social services.

As lockdowns continue in numerous countries, with no timeline in sight, Indigenous peoples who already face food insecurity, as a result of the loss of their traditional lands and territories,  confront even graver challenges in access to food. With the loss of their traditional livelihoods, which are  often  land-based, many Indigenous peoples who work in  traditional occupations and subsistence economies or in the  informal sector will be adversely affected by the pandemic.  The situation of indigenous women, who are often the main providers of food and nutrition to their families, is even graver.

Yet, Indigenous peoples are seeking their own solutions to this pandemic. They are taking action, and using traditional knowledge and practices such as voluntary isolation, and sealing off their territories, as well as preventive measures – in their own languages.

If you would like to share how your community is working to prevent and fight against the spread of COVID-19,  please  send  us  an email at  This information  can  help other indigenous communities be better prepared to deal with the pandemic. #WeAreIndigenous

  • Indigenous peoples and the COVID-19 pandemic: Considerations, Indigenous Peoples and Development Branch, Division for Inclusive Social Development, Department of Economic and Social Affairs:  English | Spanish
  • The Impact of COVID-19 on Indigenous Peoples, UN/Department of Economic and Social Affairs Policy Brief #70:  English
  • Indigenous peoples and COVID-19: A Guidance Note for the UN System, UN Inter-Agency Support Group on Indigenous Issues:  English | Spanish  | French
  • Statement by the Group of Friends of Indigenous Peoples on Safeguarding the health, well-being, and livelihoods of indigenous peoples across the world in face of COVID-19 English

Statements on COVID-19 by the UN-mandated bodies on indigenous peoples' issues
  • Statement by the Chair of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (UNPFII), Ms. Anne Nuorgam (April 2020):  English | Spanish | French
  • Statement by the Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (EMRIP): COVID-19 yet another challenge for indigenous peoples (6 April 2020):  English | French | Spanish 
  • “COVID-19 is devastating indigenous communities worldwide, and it’s not only about health”, Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples, Mr. Francisco Cali Tzay (18 May 2020):  English |   Spanish  |  French  | Russian
  • Video Message on the COVID-19 pandemic, Ms. Victoria TauIi-Corpuz, former Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples (29 April 2020)
  • Interview with UNPFII Chair, Ms. Anne Nuorgam by Radio Sweden: English
Statements, declarations and recommendations on COVID-19 by indigenous peoples organizations
Statements, declarations and recommendations on COVID-19 by UN agencies and other entities
Reports on COVID-19
Online news articles on COVID-19

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This website is a work in progress.

To read analysis and policy advice from the UN’s Department of Economic and Social Affairs/DESA on COVID-19, please click here.

United Nations COVID-19 ResponseFrequently Asked Questions on COVID-19.

Click here to read about protecting human rights amid COVID-19 crisis.

For information by the World Health Organization (WHO), including daily situation reports, please click here.
Sport and physical activity during COVID-19.  General tips for staying active.