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IHS Recognizes Advocate for Childhood Immunizations with Award

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The Indian Health Service (IHS) is recognizing Dr. Mathuram Santosham for helping to found the Center for American Indian Health at John Hopkins and for over three decades of research in childhood immunizations that started on the White Mountain Apache Reservation.

“As a result of his work, hundreds of American Indian and Alaska Native children’s lives are saved each year from life-threatening diseases such as meningitis and childhood pneumonia,” said Yvette Roubideaux, director of the IHS. She will present the award to Dr. Santosham at a June 29 ceremony in Washington, D.C.

In his op-ed for the The Baltimore Sun, Dr. Santosham sounded the call for nations to commit funding to lifesaving vaccines, and cited his successful efforts of eliminating a rash of child deaths on the White Mountain Apache Reservation in the 1980s due to severe dehydration caused by diarrhea.

"In 1980, I moved my family from Maryland to the White Mountain Apache Reservation in Arizona to work on an issue most people are not comfortable talking about—diarrhea. At the time, diarrhea, which is preventable and treatable, was rampantly killing children on the reservation at a rate seven times the national average," Santhosham wrote.

"Working hand-in-hand with tribal leadership, we introduced oral rehydration solution (ORS)—a mixture of sugar, salt and water—to treat the deadly dehydration diarrhea can cause. At the time, ORS was new and game changing. On the reservation, its effects were remarkable. Diarrhea deaths were virtually eliminated."

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Dr. Santosham continues to push for nations around the globe to fund vaccines to prevent diseases like diarrhea, which "continues to be ranked among the leading killers of children globally, taking more lives than HIV/AIDS, TB and malaria combined," Santosham wrote in The Baltimore Sun.

In a blog for ONE, a grassroots advocacy and campaigning organization that fights extreme poverty and preventable disease, Santosham noted that, "Today, vaccines are available to protect children from rotavirus—the most common and deadly cause of severe diarrhea—which kills more than 500,000 children each year."

Amongst his many initiatives to promote disease prevention, Dr. Santosham co-chairs the Rotavirus Organization of Technical Allies (ROTA) Council. He currently serves as the director of the Center for American Indian Health and as a professor of international health and pediatrics at the John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

The Center for American Indian Health is a national leader in partnering with tribes to improve health conditions and access to health care for American Indians. The Center’s mission is to work in partnership with American Indian and Alaskan Native communities to raise their health status, self-sufficiency, and health leadership to the highest possible level.

Since its origins with Dr. Santosham’s work among southwestern tribes in the 1980s, the Center has focused on strengths-based approaches that foster tribes’ rich heritage and increase tribal health leadership through training, employment and professional education. All of the center’s programs are designed with local community advisory boards to ensure cultural competency and community acceptance.