Tribes wanted for health program
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SEPTEMBER 18, 2000

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the Indian Health Service (IHS) are teaming up in a unique program aimed at putting medical research into the hands of tribes and Indian health organizations.

Announced by the National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS) the program is designed to encourage general medical research into health issues faced by Native Americans. Although such research has occurred for many years now, officials say the program finally gives Indian people the right to control their own medical future.

"We believe in tribal sovereignty," says Dr. Clifton Poodry, director of the NIGMS Division of Minority Opportunities in Research. "It should be up to tribes to decide whether they want to participate in medical research."

With diseases, conditions, and problems like diabetes, Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), and alcohol and drug use affecting Native people at high rates, Poodry believes tribes will be eager to participate in the new program. Some, he says, have already been collaborating with health institutes to conduct research into problems which affect their communities.

Diabetes research among the Gila River Pima in Arizona has occurred for some 30 years and cancer research has been a large focus on the Navajo Nation, says Poodry. But while he says its important to put money for such critical research directly into the hands of tribes or Indian health organizations, obtaining money has been difficult.

"On the one hand, researchers who can get government money don't have much credibility on reservations or in Indian communities," On the other hand, the people who are closest to Native communities often don't have the same academic credibility," says Poodry. "So here we have a gap. Those who can get the money aren't providing it and those who are close haven't been able to get the money."

Mistrust lies at the heart of the gap, says Poodry, as Native people are often the focus of studies but don't always see the results of them. Additionally, the IHS doesn't have money to fund programs to look into the causes of the problems they service.

By fostering better relationships between Indian people and the scientific community, it is hoped the program will correct these issues. To qualify for the program, a tribe or health organization has to develop a partnership with a university or research institution. Together, they will decide how, when, and why to conduct research.

"What I hope is the best outcome is empowerment of tribes -- to be in control of what kinds of research gets done so that they can address issues that are of concern to them," says Poodry.

You can learn more about the program, including upcoming deadlines, for the Native American Research Centers for Health. Dr. Poodry can be reached for advice via email at

Relevant Links:
The National Institute of General Medical Sciences -
Division of Minority Opportunities in Research, NIGMS -
The Indian Health Service -

Related Stories:
Native American Research Centers for Health Program Launched (NIH 9/13)
IHS and NIH form partnership for American Indian and Alaska Native Research (IHS 8/3)