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Health Coverage for American Indians and Alaska Natives
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CDC calls attention to health disparities in U.S.
Monday, February 9, 2004

Federal health officials on Friday outlined a long list of health problems that affect American Indians and Alaska Natives at higher rates than other racial or ethnic groups in the nation.

Experts from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) held a press briefing to call attention to the substantial gaps in health care and access to health care experienced by minorities. The focused on chronic diseases, including cardiovascular disease and diabetes, and sexually transmitted diseases, especially HIV/AIDS.

"The setting today in the United States is one of longstanding health disparities among the leading causes of disease and death and this is despite notable progress in the overall health of the nation," said Dr. Walter Williams, associate director for minority health at the CDC.

Nowhere were the disparities more evident than in Indian Country. According to the CDC, Native Americans have extremely high rates of diabetes, infant mortality, certain sexually transmitted diseases, unintentional injuries and motor vehicle crashes.

In almost every case, the rate among Native Americans surpassed that of whites, but also of other minority groups.

"Infant mortality rates are more than twice as high for African-Americans, but SIDS deaths among American Indian and Alaska Natives are also three to four times the rate for white Americans," said Williams. "So there's an example of another race ethnic group that actually has a higher rate than African-Americans."

Other examples included:
• Chronic diseases - Heart disease and cancer are the leading causes of death for Native Americans. The prevalence of diabetes is more than twice that for all adults in the United States, and the mortality rate from chronic liver disease is more than twice as high, according to 2002 data.

• Infant Mortality - The infant mortality rate is 1.7 times higher than non-Hispanic whites. The sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) rate is the highest in the nation, more than double that of whites in 1999.

• Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) - In 2001, the syphilis rate was 6 times higher than the rate among the non-Hispanic white population, the chlamydia rate was 5.5 times higher, the gonorrhea rate was 4 times higher and the AIDS rate was 1.5 times higher.

• Injuries - Unintentional injuries are the third leading cause of death and the leading cause for Natives aged 1-44 years. Death rates for unintentional injuries and motor vehicle crashes are 1.7 to 2.0 times higher than the rates for all racial/ethnic populations, while suicide rates youth are 3 times greater than rates for whites of similar age.

Dr. Julie Louise Gerberding, the director of the CDC, said the government is committed to reducing health disparities. That's one of the goals of the Healthy People 2010 initiative, a "road map" for the nation's health.

But she said the CDC has to do a better job at reaching out to minority groups. "We, as a government agency, can't always translate information in the most effective strategy," she said. The CDC, through the Office of Minority Health, emphasizes partnerships with tribal governments, academic institutions and national and community-based organizations.

Relevant Documents:
Racial/Ethnic Health Disparities (CDC)

Relevant Links:
Office of Minority Health, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention - http://www.cdc.gov/omh
Indian Health Service - http://www.ihs.gov
Department of Health and Human Services - http://www.hhs.gov

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