ASU anthropologist helps indigenous community respond to COVID-19

May 28, 2020

An Arizona State University anthropologist and his colleagues are helping an indigenous group in Bolivia understand and respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. He believes the public health plan they created can help guide other native communities through the crisis.

Benjamin Trumble, an assistant professor at ASU’s School of Human Evolution and Social Change, is part of an international and interdisciplinary team that developed a comprehensive response plan published this month in The Lancet medical journal.
Tsimane Health and Life History Project Team Tsimane Health and Life History Project Team holding a community meeting to explain the COVID-19 pandemic and discuss ways to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 in the Tsimane communities. Photo courtesy of the Tsimane Health and Life History Project Team. Download Full Image

The article outlines steps for informing an indigenous community in Bolivia, the Tsimane (pronounced Chi-mahn-eh), about COVID-19 and helping them limit damage caused by the coronavirus. Trumble co-directs the Tsimane Health and Life History Project Team, which has worked with the Tsimane for nearly 20 years.

The team used Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines and materials to develop Tsimane-specific protocols for responding to COVID-19. They presented the plan to the Tsimane in their native language during a series of community gatherings before the virus reached this remote area of Bolivia. 

The plan’s main focus is on communication and taking precautionary steps to limit spread of the coronavirus. The first portion of the plan focused on the coordination of tribal leaders, collective decision-making, education and awareness, training in the use of personal protective equipment and stocking medical supplies.

This took place in March, as the pandemic spread through Bolivia. Now, as COVID-19 has been reported in the region close to Tsimane communities, the second phase of the plan emphasizes testing, case reporting, contact tracing and isolation. 

The team saw an urgent need to establish a plan for indigenous communities in the area, writing, “Despite the fact that almost half of Bolivians are considered to be of indigenous origin, no specific guidelines have been outlined for remote indigenous groups inhabiting native communal territories.”

Trumble was unsure how the Tsimane government would react to hearing about COVID-19 and the public health plan, though they’ve experienced outbreaks before and understood the severity of this one. Trumble was surprised by how quickly they adopted and implemented the plan. The Tsimane installed gates across common entry points to prevent people from entering their communities, and stocked up on everyday supplies, like soap and salt, to minimize trips to town. 

Trumble recently learned of a Tsimane mother and child who were turned away when trying to reenter their community after spending time in a larger Bolivian city. Instead of returning home, the mother and child were sent to quarantine for two weeks at the Tsimane’s established shelter in the nearby market town San Borja.

“That’s evidence that our plan is working,” Trumble said. “They listened to the protocol and followed it to the letter.” 

Self-isolation is another crucial step outlined by the research team. Trumble said within a Tsimane community, self-isolation is possible because they grow and hunt their own food. The simple design of their homes also allows new structures for isolation to be built quickly. 

While remote settings and simple structures exist in many indigenous cultures around the world, there are still low-resource settings where the protocol is less applicable. Some elements of the public health plan can be used by Native American communities, but self-isolation may be less practical because they need to visit the supermarket.

“It’s not a ‘one-size-fits-all’ plan, but it can be modified,” Trumble said. “Policymakers, community members and leaders could see it and modify the policy to fit their indigenous populations worldwide.”

Modified CDC poster in the local Tsimane Language.

Modified CDC poster in the local Tsimane Language. Photo courtesy of the Tsimane Health and Life History Project Team.

The team made its plan and CDC-adapted resources available in multiple languages, including Spanish, French and Portuguese, in hopes that others will be able to utilize them. “It’s really wonderful to see all these researchers who have never met each other come together online and share resources,” Trumble said.

The researchers continue to monitor the effectiveness of the plan in place. The current team working in Bolivia consists of approximately 10 Tsimane, three doctors, a biochemist and two logistics personnel.

The next steps include stocking five existing medical outposts with medicine for common ailments and developing a field test for COVID-19. Trumble is drawing from his experience as a researcher at ASU’s Center for Evolution and Medicine to help create a test that can be used in a low-infrastructure setting. 

“All methods are field-friendly if you want to know the answer badly enough,” Trumble said. “And we really want to know the answer.”

There are approximately 16,000 Tsimane living in clusters of 50-500 people in the lowlands of Bolivia. The Tsimane Health and Life History Project Team has been working with the community for almost two decades and has received funding from the National Institutes of Health to study cardiovascular health and Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias.

The team has collaborators from Bolivia, France and the United States. The other co-directors are anthropologists Hillard Kaplan from Chapman University, Michael Gurven from University of California, Santa Barbara and Jon Stieglitz from the Institute for Advanced Study in Toulouse.

Taylor Woods

Communications program coordinator, School of Human Evolution and Social Change


16 classes to explore this summer from ASU's The College

May 28, 2020

Do you want to get ahead in your degree? Are you debating graduate school? Maybe you’re an incoming first-year student who just can’t wait for fall. Or maybe you’re just tired of the same routine and want to mix it up this summer.

No matter your motivation, with Arizona State University’s 5,000-plus summer course offerings, there is a class for you. Many of ASU’s popular courses are being offered with flexible start dates and the university is offering awards for a variety of students as well as financial incentives to assist learners with their educational goals. student looks at computer Popular courses are being offered online this summer with flexible start dates. Download Full Image

Check out some of the featured courses offered this summer from The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

Understand the past and present to impact your future

CEL 200 – Great Debates in American Politics and Economics: This course introduces fundamental ideas and debates about liberty and equality in American thought from the colonial era to the present, focusing on major political and economic figures and issues.

CEL 100 – Great Ideas of Politics and Ethics: This course surveys ancient, medieval and modern thinkers in the Greek, Jewish, Christian and Muslim traditions, tracing their influences on contemporary debates with focus on the great questions of human nature, social and political life and the relationship between religion and politics.

JUS 350 – Immigration and Justice: This course examines immigration policy, history of immigration, refugee issues, labor force participation, gender, family, children, social networks and transnationalism.

JUS 435 – Cinema and Justice: This course tracks the conceptualizations of justice that have been and are currently conveyed in film, including the relationship between crime and various notions of justice. Other depictions include social issues such as gender, race and economics.

WST 335 – Gender, Race and Sex in Science Fiction: This course explores such questions as: How have biological scientists explained human differences along axes of gender, race, class and sexuality? In what ways have these scientific discussions manifested themselves in science fiction?

Discover insights into human behavior

Whether you’re ready for a deep dive into psychology or just want an introduction to why humans behave the way they do, The College has a variety of courses to offer: 

COM 100 – Intro to Human Communication: Required by many majors, this course introduces basic theories, dimensions and concepts of human communicative interaction and behavior while fulfilling general education requirements.

PHI 310 – Environmental Ethics: This course examines a full range of philosophical positions pertaining to our moral relationship to the natural world; anthropocentrism, individualism and biocentrism.

PSY 366 – Abnormal Psychology: This course covers historical and current definitions, theory and research concerning abnormal behavior and major categories of psychopathology, including related treatment approaches.

PSY 394 – Introduction to Applied Behavioral Analysis: By developing a better understanding of why behavior occurs in the first place, this course will give you a taste of how we may accomplish behavior change to benefit the individual and society as a whole.

Explore your world from Earth to outer space

Do you find yourself looking around at your surroundings and asking “how?” The classes below will help you find answers to questions about the solar system, natural disasters, geologic history and more.

AST 111 – Introduction to Solar Systems Astronomy: How did our Earth and solar system come to be? What are the patterns we observe in the sky? This course offers learners the opportunity to use astronomy and physics concepts to connect with our solar system and nearby stars, with an optional lab (AST 113).

GLG 102 – Introduction to Geology II (Historical): This course covers the basic principles of applied geology and the use of these principles in the interpretation of geologic history, with an optional lab (GLG 104).

GIS 598 – Special Topic: GIS Methods for Non-Majors: Geographic Information Systems (GIS) are a valuable tool being used by professionals in a variety of industries. This four-credit, hands-on course is designed for students who are new to GIS and would like to learn how to use it as a tool and apply it to work in their particular field.

GLG 110 – Dangerous World: This course combines both the scientific and human perspective, with primary focus placed on physical processes, case studies and the interactions between humans and Earth, with an optional lab (GLG 111).

GLG 327 – Earth’s Critical Zone: This course offers a quantitative review of the form and function of the processes impacting Earth’s critical zone to build an understanding of the interactions of physical, chemical and biotic processes in shaping the surface and determining fluid, solute and sediment fluxes.

SES 106 – Habitable Worlds: Are We Alone?: This question was once addressed only in our imaginations. Now, it is at the cutting edge of science. In Habitable Worlds, learn how scientists search for other worlds and how they determine whether a planet is capable of harboring life.

SES 141 – Energy in Everyday Life: This transdisciplinary online survey course helps students understand concepts and develop skills that crosscut scientific disciplines, such as the ability to observe, think critically and gather data to make order-of-magnitude estimates.

Kirsten Kraklio

Content Strategist and Writer, The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences