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IHS, Canada renew collaborative effort

Five-year plan targets suicide, alcoholism prevention

WASHINGTON - The Department of Health and Human Services celebrated Native American Heritage Month in the United States Nov. 1 with Canada.

The parent department of the IHS, represented by HHS Secretary Michael O. Leavitt, signed a Memorandum of Understanding on Indigenous Health Nov. 1 with Canadian Minister of Health Tony Clement, renewing a five-year collaboration between the IHS and its Canadian equivalent, the First Nations and Inuit Health Branch. The MOU recognizes common interests and approaches to improving Native health, and reaffirms the sharing of best practices to serve them better. Joint efforts to exchange information and enhance collaboration will go forward for another five years, as they have for the past five.

Among the subject areas targeted for exchanges in a specific plan of action will be suicide prevention and the prevention and treatment of alcoholism, disease prevention, ''cooperation between and among research institutions and agencies,'' approaches to maternal and child health, and urban and community health.

The ultimate beneficiaries of all the information-sharing will be American Indians and Alaska Natives in the United States, and the First Nations and Inuit of Canada.

Leavitt said important strides took place under the expiring MOU, while the new one ''holds much promise'' for improving health care and ''overall health promotion for Native communities in the United States and Canada.''

Clement cited ''tangible progress'' under the previous MOU in maternal and child health, disease prevention, and mental health and addictions, according to an HHS release.

The IHS, often working with tribal and urban programs, serves clients in 35 states and 562 federally recognized tribes. The First Nations and Inuit Health Branch works with more than 600 First Nation and Inuit communities.

For the IHS, the MOU continues a concerted outreach program that has extended to Boys and Girls Clubs, Native communities through the Healthy Native Communities Fellowship, and the Nike shoe for Native clients (subject of mixed reviews in the media recently) that promotes preventive health while reinvesting profits on the wholesale-priced product into Native community-based health initiatives.