Forty years in partnership: the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Indian Health Service.


Fifty years ago, American Indian and Alaska Native children faced an overwhelming burden of disease, especially infectious diseases such as pneumonia, meningitis, tuberculosis, hepatitis A and B, and gastrointestinal disease. Death rates of American Indian/Alaska Native infants between 1 month and 1 year were much higher than in the US population as a whole, largely because of these infectious diseases. The health care of American Indian/Alaska Native patients was transferred to the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare in 1955 and placed under the administration of an agency soon to be known as the Indian Health Service. The few early pediatricians in the Indian Health Service recognized the severity of the challenges facing American Indian/Alaska Native children and asked for help. The American Academy of Pediatrics responded by creating the Committee on Indian Health in 1965. In 1986 the Committee on Native American Child Health replaced the Committee on Indian Health. Through the involved activity of these committees, the American Academy of Pediatrics participated in and influenced Indian Health Service policies and services and, combined with improved transportation, sanitation, and access to vaccines and direct services, led to vast improvements in the health of American Indian/Alaska Native children. In 1965, American Indian/Alaska Native postneonatal mortality was more than 3 times that of the general population of the United States. It is still more than twice as high as in other races but has decreased 89% since 1965. Infectious diseases, which caused almost one fourth of all American Indian/Alaska Native child deaths in 1965, now cause <1%. The Indian Health Service and tribal health programs, authorized by the Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act of 1976 (Pub L. 93-638), continue to seek American Academy of Pediatrics review and assistance through the Committee on Native American Child Health to find and implement interventions for emerging child health problems related to pervasive poverty of many American Indian/Alaska Native communities. Acute infectious diseases that once were responsible for excess morbidity and mortality now are replaced by excess rates resulting from harmful behaviors, substance use, obesity, and injuries (unintentional and intentional). Through strong working partnerships such as that of the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Indian Health Service, progress hopefully will occur to address this "new morbidity." In this article we document the history of the Indian Health Service and the American Academy of Pediatrics committees that have worked with it and present certain statistics related to American Indian/Alaska Native child health that show the severity of the health-status disparities challenging American Indian/Alaska Native children and youth.

Location Description: 

Alaska AK