The Native health gap

 

Despite the skyrocketing cost of healthcare, Americans are enjoying longer lifespans, and fewer children are dying in infancy. Unless they're Native American, that is.  The numbers for Washington state, as reported in the Seattle P-I, are shocking:

A recent state Department of Health report showed that the march against cancer, heart disease and infant mortality has largely bypassed Native Americans. In 2006, the latest year studied, Native American men were dying at the highest rate of all people, with little change since the early '90s. Their life expectancy was 71, the lowest age of all men, and six years lower than that of white men.

The news was just as grim for Native American women. Their death rate had surged by 20 percent in a 15-year period, while the overall death rate had decreased by 17 percent.

But the starkest health disparity was among babies. Native American babies were dying at a rate 44 percent higher than a decade ago, while the overall rate of infant deaths had declined.

The sad statistics have many roots, some beginning in the 1800s (diseases brought by European settlers; broken treaties and land grabs), some more recent (federal budget cuts that make it hard for Natives to afford medical care and healthy food; a statewide shortage of rural doctors).

And the inequities aren't limited to Washington State. According to the federal Native American Injury Mortality Atlas, Indian children and youth had the highest death rates in the country for motor vehicle crashes and pedestrian deaths, and a suicide rate up to 8 times the national average.

Help may be on the way, although health disparities of this magnitude will take years to reverse. Obama's budget proposes $4 billion  for the Indian Health Service, a $700 million increase from last year. Tribes are also taking action to reduce suicides and promote exercise and healthy eating.

 

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