INDIAN HEALTH: Deaths Up, IHS Too Squeezed to Respond
Diabetes and youth violence are cutting short the lives of American-Indian men, but health programs lack the financial resources to respond appropriately, according to medical officers with the Indian Health Service. The Billings Gazette reports that HHS Secretary Donna Shalala recently drew attention to National Center of Health Statistics data indicating that mortality rates for Indian males climbed 7% from 490 per 100,000 in 1996 to 523 per 100,000 in 1997. Similarly, the IHS reported that from 1992 to 1994, the average lifespan of an Indian male, 67.2 years, was 7% shorter than the national average, 72.2 years. Attributing the shorter lifespan to a "startling increase in mortality rates among Indian youth," Dr. Craig Vanderwagen, director of IHS' clinical and preventive services, noted that Indian men are making "poor lifestyle choices." He said, "Earlier, we had infectious diseases like gastroenteritis and diarrhea. In the last 30 years, it has changed to chronic lifestyle choices." He noted that poor diet is one problem leading to high rates of diabetes in the Native American community. Increasing violence is also driving up the mortality rate, said Vanderwagen, noting that "[h]omicide, suicide, chemical dependence [and] gang activity" are claiming the lives of many Native youths.
At the same time, Indian health programs are financially squeezed and lack the resources to address the health problems that are plaguing the communities, the Billings Gazette reports. Vanderwagen noted that while federal funding for Indian health programs in 1999 provided only $1,400 per person, Medicaid receives $3,200 per person and the Veterans Affairs health programs receive $5,000 per person (Kapadia, 2/23).