How AIHEC is Fighting for Health Care Equality

Nov 15th, 2003 | By | Category: 15-2: Reclaiming Native Health
By Gerald E. Gipp, Ph.D. Executive Director, American Indian Higher Education Consortium (AIHEC)

Gerald E. Gipp

For years Native Americans have struggled with extreme health issues ranging from alcoholism, tuberculosis, and diabetes, to accidents, suicide, and homicide. Our people become ill or die at alarming rates, sometimes as much as seven times greater than other Americans.

Our own federal government assured health care and peace in treaties when it took hundreds of millions of acres of land in the 1800s. However, that same government funds only about 32 cents on the dollar for American Indians’ health care through the Indian Health Service compared with what it spends on Americans covered by Medicare.

One could argue that many American Indians’ culture, rural location, poverty, or lack of education cause lower life expectancies or disparities in health care. Others might focus on the actual health care delivery system and its inadequate funding. Whatever the arguments, we must not sacrifice solutions while taking time to assess the causes. It is our duty to find ways to do both.

It is inconceivable to me that our elders must wait hours upon hours for the kind of basic health care services taken for granted by thousands of Americans across the country daily. However, as I watched my own mother wait patiently for care numerous times, I was not surprised when I heard U.S. Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell (Northern Cheyenne) say, “Health care for Native people has never been a high priority nationally.”

AIHEC continues to educate our nation’s policymakers about the inequality in health care services and ways to address this for the long-term. But at the same time, we manage programs in our tribal college communities to make a difference today.

Some of these AIHEC programs are: Honoring Our Health: Tribal Colleges Working with Communities to Prevent Diabetes, a multi-year project to promote health and reduce the impact of diabetes in tribal communities; American Indian/Alaska Native Viral Hepatitis Prevention Education Program, to help public health nurses integrate hepatitis counseling, testing, and prevention into their services; Tribal Colleges and Universities HIV/AIDS Awareness Project, which is creating a model HIV/AIDS prevention education program targeted at students in our tribal colleges; and Healthy People 2010: TCU Nursing Programs,  which focuses on increasing the capacity of tribal college nursing programs.

These are only a few of the many initiatives needed to truly change our health care system. AIHEC continues to seek resources to develop the capacities of the tribal colleges to promote education, development, research, leadership, and community partnerships in health care.

Together, we can promote good health within our communities and make our health care services a national priority. Comprehensive health care service is not a luxury; our very survival depends on it.

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