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NIHB rallies for Special Diabetes Program

WASHINGTON - The National Indian Health Board planned an appearance on the Native America Calling radio program May 15 and a rally in the near future for Sen. Max Baucus to support reauthorization of the Special Diabetes Program for Indians, said Collette Keith of NIHB;s communications shop.

Baucus, D-Mont., has been an important supporter of the program as chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, Keith said. ''We just want to thank him and to remind him that we still need his support.''

The Senate Finance Committee will consider reauthorization of the Special Diabetes Program, but not before June, Keith said.

Supplemental funding of $150 million has been appropriated for the IHS grant program through fiscal year 2009, which ends Sept. 30 of that year. The reauthorization sought by NIHB and other Indian health advocates would fund the program at $200 million annually for five years.

A crucial point to remember, Keith said, is that many of the program's grants are multi-year, meaning one-year supplemental appropriations, while welcome, may interrupt or encumber programs that address long-term needs and problems.

Since its outset in 1997, the SDPI has made a dent in the incidence and severity of diabetes in Indian country, according to past and present IHS officials. The proof is that the hemoglobin A1c count, a blood test that measures the mean level of blood glucose (or, informally, blood sugar) across populations, has fallen by a full percentage point population-wide among IHS clients since 1996 (prior to the program). Because persistently high levels of glucose in the blood lead to diabetes, the decline from 9 percent hemoglobin A1c in 1996 to 7.85 percent currently is associated with a 40 percent reduction in diabetes-related complications, according to an NIHB fact sheet. IHS states that a full 79 percent of its service population with diabetes has obtained a hemoglobin A1c count, setting the stage for further declines in the population-wide percentage as disease management and prevention measures are applied.

End-stage renal dialysis continues to decline among Indians, NIHB adds.

Without reauthorization of the SDPI, its fact sheet concludes, the accomplishments of 10 years will be lost.