U.S. Surgeon General Nominee Aims to Improve Health for American - KXNet.com - Bismarck/Minot/Williston/Dickinson-KXNEWS,ND

U.S. Surgeon General Nominee Aims to Improve Health for American Indians -- and Others

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Third World health conditions in the heart of America -- experts from within and without the Indian community agree, it's unacceptable.

On average, American Indians in North Dakota die two decades earlier than whites.  "We have higher rates of things like diabetes, cancer, heart disease and other conditions.  And there's all kinds of theories as to why that is the case," says Donald Warne, M.D., NDSU.

They resolve to get to the bottom of it, noting their heritage makes them well-suited to do so.  "We're nosy.  We're curious.  That's what helped keep us alive.  That was our survival," says Twila Martin-Kekahbah, Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa.

Healthy survival modernly is dependent on getting it right.  A few things are known:  "In recent years and over the last century, in particular, we've seen more dependence on things like commodity foods, and unfortunately, higher rates of things like cigarette smoking, as well," says Dr. Warne.

They say better coordinated data amongst the tribes, and at the federal and state levels, is necessary to ensure the problem is being addressed in the most logical manner.  "Unfortunately, the agency responsible for providing those services, Indian Health Services, is terribly underfunded, and as a result, we don't have the resources we need to address our health issues," notes Dr. Warne.
But solving the problem is in everyone's best interest.  It's also a legal obligation of the United States.  "That's based on treaties that tribes exchanged land and natural resources for various social services, including healthcare."

It just so happens the man raising awareness is also being promoted as the next U.S. Surgeon General.  In such a position, he could elevate the issue of Indian health.  However, if selected, Dr. Donald Warne, a Stanford Medical School graduate, says he would serve all Americans.  "As Surgeon General, you really are the nation's doctor and you have to represent every population and not just for American Indians, but we have many segments of the population that do not have access to basic public health or medical services and as a result, many of our fellow Americans are suffering and dying needlessly."

According to Indian Health Services, death rates from diabetes amongst American Indians are 208% higher when compared to non-Indians.  Alcoholism is 526% higher.  Suicide is 60% higher.  


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