The Special Diabetes Program for Indians: Combating the Native Diabetes Epidemic

The Special Diabetes Program for Indians Combating the Native Diabetes Epidemic TrialsiteN

The Indian Health Service established the Special Diabetes Program (SDP) for Indians in response to the diabetes epidemic among American Indians and Alaska Natives.  The U.S. Congress established the SDPI grant programs in 1997 with a $150 million annual grant program, coordinated by IHS Division of Diabetes with guidance from the Tribal Leaders Diabetes Committee. This program supports not only diabetes treatment and prevention but also access to advanced clinical research. The funding is set to expire in September.

The Crisis

Native Americans and Alaskans face a greater chance of having diabetes than any other U.S. racial or ethnic group. Native Americans are twice as likely as whites to have been diagnosed with diabetes. Moreover, they are face nearly 5X greater risk than whites for kidney failure from diabetes. This is a systematic and pervasive challenge caused by a combination of factors and forces. Diabetes is a leading cause of kidney failure, a costly condition requiring dialysis or kidney transplant for survival.  Kidney failure can be delayed or prevented by controlling blood pressure and blood sugar and by taking medicines that protect the kidneys. Since the HIS has intensified use of population health and team-based care coordination approaches for diabetes care, the health statistics have improved for Native Americans.

A Call to Action

Recently, Cassandra Freeland of Columbia, Ohio, wrote a letter that was published in the Columbus Dispatch. Ms. Freeland reminds those that care that over the past 21 years, SDP has funded $2.8 billion in research with $150 million per year for research directly supporting the reversal of the Native American diabetes epidemic. Each of the $150 million leverages $2 additional dollars from other funding sources. We haven’t studied the SDP in detail but don’t doubt the positive impact the improvement such a program can have for the lives of those battling Type I diabetes—benefits such as better technology for measuring and controlling blood sugars, superior insulin delivery, and advanced drugs that prevent greater complications with vision or kidneys.

Advanced Research

Ms. Freeland reminds the readers that SDP funding supports approaches to improve and restore glucose control and insulin independence through beta-cell encapsulation and regeneration as well as immunotherapy. The funding of research to improve prevention is of vital public health interests.