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Roubideaux: Keeping hope alive for a diabetes-free future

I was speaking to an audience of mainly tribal health program staff recently, and asked them if they had heard of the Special Diabetes Program for Indians. Blank faces looked back at me. I then asked, ''You know, the diabetes grant programs?'' A flicker of recognition. I then said - ''What about all the diabetes and wellness activities in the community?'' Finally, everyone understood what I was talking about!

Most people know about all the new diabetes prevention activities in their communities - fun runs, cooking classes, health fairs or new exercise equipment at the wellness or community centers. Some notice they are getting newer medications, meters to check their blood glucose and a lot more attention in the clinic. But few associate these new activities and services with the actual name of the congressional funding that led to their creation: the Special Diabetes Program for Indians.

It is now time to make sure that everyone knows that the diabetes grant program activities that have been a part of their communities for 10 years are at risk of ending. SDPI was passed in 1997 as a part of the Balanced Budget Act and Congress appropriated $30 million a year for the next five years for diabetes prevention and treatment services. Good reports on these activities and tribal advocacy led to increases in this funding over the year to current levels of $150 million a year through 2008. However, SDPI technically ends in 2008 unless Congress passes legislation to reauthorize this funding.

Advocacy efforts are under way to let Congress know that these programs and activities are having an impact in Indian communities and why it is important to reauthorize this important legislation. The American Diabetes Association and its Awakening the Spirit Project Team, the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, the Tribal Leaders Diabetes Committee, the National Indian Health Board and other tribal advocates and leaders have been visiting key members of Congress to encourage them to reauthorize SDPI.

On June 19, a special congressional briefing was held to educate congressional staff on the importance of this legislation and to ask for their help. As a result of these efforts and strong congressional support so far, the Senate and the House have both introduced bills to reauthorize SDPI (S.1494 and H.R. 2762). Advocates are working to get these bills moving through Congress to make sure they get passed before the funding ends in 2008.

Please join all of us in supporting the reauthorization of SDPI. You can go to the American Diabetes Association, Awakening the Spirit Web site and learn more about these advocacy efforts; download our new Advocacy Kit that gives information on how to contact and meet with your members of Congress; and click on a link to immediately send an e-mail supporting SDPI reauthorization to all the Congressional representatives from your state (http://www.diabetes.org/advocacy-and-legalresources/federal_legislation/reauthori zation.jsp). You can also visit the National Indian Health Board Web site for updates on advocacy efforts (www.nihb.org) and click on ''diabetes'' under health topics.

I encourage you to talk with your local health providers about programs and ask about how SDPI funding is making a difference in your community to prevent and treat diabetes. Then, please send this information to your Congressional representatives and your tribal leaders so that they can fully support the reauthorization of SDPI.

Through my work in various capacities with the grant programs who receive this funding, I have seen real progress and accomplishments and am proud of the hard work of all the dedicated staff working in these programs. They are our everyday heroes in the fight against diabetes, and they are taking us closer to our dreams for a diabetes-free future. Thank you for helping support the reauthorization of SDPI.

Yvette Roubideaux, M.D., M.P.H., is chair of Awakening the Spirit Team, a community-based effort of the American Diabetes Association.