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MNAAP Newsletter

Perspectives on Advocacy: Annual CONACH Legislative Visit on Native American Children’s Health

By Damon Dixon, MD, a Native American physician and third-year pediatric cardiology fellow at the University of Minnesota Amplatz Children’s Hospital

As the fellow liaison to the Committee on Native American Children Health (CONACH), I had the opportunity to participate in the annual legislative visit to Washington DC. The agenda for the legislative meeting involved discussions on Native American child health issues, an opportunity to meet with U.S. representatives and senators and sponsorship of a congressional briefing.

CONACH is an AAP National Committee that develops policies and programs to improve the health of Native American Children. The members are committed to increasing the awareness of health care issues facing Native American children and advocating for legislation that ensures Native American children have access to high quality health care. CONACH also conducts annual pediatric consultation visits to Indian Health Service (IHS) and tribal health care facilities to promote the development of programs that support healthy lifestyles and optimal physical, mental and social health in Native American children.

IHS is a comprehensive community-oriented health care delivery system that serves American Indians and Alaska Natives (AI/AN). The IHS was established by treaties and trust agreements to provide basic health care needs to AI/AN by the U.S government. AI/AN have longstanding treaty rights with the U.S. government that guarantee federal provision of health care services, dating all the way back to the constitution. IHS serves 2.1 million American Indians and Alaska Natives (AI/AN) and is the primary source of basic health care services on Indian reservations.

Meeting in downtown Washington, D.C. at the Sofitel Hotel, CONACH members discussed several issues, including actions to improve medical providers’ recruitment and retention, coalition building with other health professional groups, updates on Reach Out and Read (ROR) programs on IHS clinics and updates on Area IHS health care facilities. The meeting was highlighted by a teleconference meeting with current IHS Director Dr Yvette Roubideaux. Dr.

Roubideaux discussed the current state of affairs and reviewed IHS’s four priorities, which are commitments to strengthen partnerships with tribes, bring reform to the IHS, improve the quality and access to care, and ensure that its work is transparent, accountable and fair.

AI/AN children suffer from significant health disparities compared to other children in the general population. A Native American child born today has a life expectancy four years shorter than that of the general population; moreover the rate of obesity and Type 2 diabetes is epidemic in Indian Country. IHS provides primary preventative care to a vulnerable population with unique health care needs.

Members of CONACH also had the opportunity to meet with U.S. Congressional representatives to discuss and advocate for federal policies that would protect AI/AN children from budget cuts under sequestration. The AAP also sponsored a Hill briefing on the importance of transportation infrastructure and transportation safety issues on the Indian reservations. Motor vehicle crashes are the leading causes of injury-related deaths for Native American 19 years old and younger.

The AAP has collaborated with the IHS for 48 years and has played an important role in the improvement of Native American health care. CONACH is an example of the AAP commitment to expanding its efforts to raise the status of Native American children’s health. Being a member of CONACH has strengthened my commitment to the IHS and has rekindled my passion for advocacy.