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Health News in Brief

Indian Health Service Gets High OMB Rating

The Indian Health Service, the agency responsible for the health needs of American Indians living on or near reservations, was recently rated among the top 20 programs in the federal government by the U. S. Office of Management and Budget. The IHS was also the second highest reviewed program in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

The OMB rated the IHR computerized Resource Patient Management System (RPMS), an electronic information system designed to provide clinical and administrative information to health care providers and program managers at the local, regional and national levels.

Dr. Charles Grim, Director of IHS

"The high ratings that the RPMS received reflect the excellent work and dedication of IHS staff," said Dr. Charles W. Grim, Director of the Indian Health Service. "Performance reviews assist in evaluating appropriate use of resources and the effectiveness of our programs so that we continue to provide the best services to the American Indian and Alaska Native population. These scores are well earned and well deserved."

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Asthma Rates Higher for American Indians and Alaska Natives

American Indian and Alaska Native adults have the highest asthma rate among single-race groups, according to a new study published in Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, a publication of the Centers for Disease Control. Based on a 2002 survey, 11.6 percent of Native Americans said they suffered from asthma. This was significantly higher than the national average of 7.5 percent, and much higher than every other single racial or ethnic group.

An estimated 16 million adults in the U.S. suffer from asthma, a health condition characterized by difficult breathing. There is no known cause, say health experts. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, asthma prevalence, morbidity, and mortality has increased over the past 20 years. Minorities continue to suffer more than whites.

In the study, asthma rates were recorded in 19 areas, including states with significant Native populations. Those states were California, Idaho, Michigan, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Utah and Wisconsin. Nearly 76 percent of Native Americans with the condition said they were on some form of asthma medication, the highest of all racial and ethnic groups and higher than the national average of 69.3 percent.

Fewer Native Americans reported "emergency" doctor visits for asthma than African-Americans and Hispanics and fewer Native Americans said they went to the hospital for an "urgent" visit than African-Americans, Hispanics and those of multiple races. More Native Americans said they went for "routine" visits than others, and more Native Americans said they suffered asthma attacks than other groups.

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IHS Dedicates Two New Health Facilities

The Indian Health Service recently dedicated two new health centers in Indian Country estimated to cost more than $67 million. The two centers are being built in Winnebago, Nebraska and Pawnee, Oklahoma.

The IHS began construction of the Nebraska hospital, which will benefit the Omaha and Winnebago Tribes, in June of 2000. It will replace the original hospital, built in 1932, and will also have a drug dependency unit as well as acute care nursing, laboratory, emergency and urgent care, radiology, podiatry, optometry, diabetes prevention and treatment, behavioral health, public health nutrition and health education facilities The new $48 million hospital will accommodate 8,000 inpatient visits per year and add 147 new staff personnel.

The Oklahoma hospital will serve the Iowa, Kaw, Osage, Otoe-Missouria, Ponca, Sac and Fox, Tonkawa and Pawnee Nations. The original hospital was built in 1929 with a ward for tubercular patients, but closed its inpatient section in 1981. The new $19.3 million clinic will add 64 new staff positions and provide outpatient services such as medical imaging, laboratory services, a pharmacy, physical therapy, audiology, dental, optometry, behavioral health, public health nutrition and health education.

Toxins from Land and Water Threaten Arctic Inuit

Scientists say that the Arctic, once considered a pristine environment, has been dangerously polluted by a number of contaminants including heavy metals, mercury and PCBs -- that travel north by air and water from southern industrialized countries. The toxins have entered the human food chain through traditional foods like seal, caribou and other Arctic animals, and pose a serious threat to the Inuit, the indigenous people who have lived, hunted and fished in the region for thousands of years.

Canadian studies have found that many Inuit have dangerously high levels of PCBs, DDT and mercury in their blood, fatty tissue and breast milk. A 1997 government study found that 65 percent of women in the Baffin region of Nunavut had levels of PCBs in their blood that were five times higher than the safety threshold set by the Canadian Health Ministry. The study found that women in Broughton Island off the southeastern shore of Baffin Island had more than five times the levels of PCBs in their breast milk than women in other parts of Canada, and that 80 percent of mothers in Nunavik, in northern Quebec, and 68 percent of mothers in Baffin had unsafe levels of mercury in their blood.

"The northern women had the highest levels of PCBs ever found in people, except in victims of industrial accidents," according to a report by Heather Myers, an assistant professor at the University of Northern British Columbia. "The fundamental injustice is that virtually no industrial development exists in the Northwest Territories and Nunavut. These new environmental threats, which could completely undercut the traditional and land-based lifestyle of the northern native peoples, come from other, more developed areas."

The Inuit plan to petition the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights to declare that the pollutants, along with climate change and the residue from military installations in the region, are violating their human rights.

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