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Guest Opinion. November is Diabetes Awareness Month, and this disease still affects a staggering number of adults and children: 1 in 10 individuals struggles with diabetes and another 1 in 3 people is pre-diabetic. The rates are even higher in Native communities. Diabetes is the third leading cause of death in the Cherokee Nation, according to our Cherokee Nation Health System data.

 We are aggressively working to combat this epidemic. With more than 11,000 active diabetes patients, Cherokee Nation operates the country’s largest Special Diabetes Program for Indians (SDPI). For over 25 years, Cherokee Nation’s SDPI has provided vital services such as diabetes education, management and prevention throughout the health system. These efforts are paying off, with more than 7 in 10 patients maintaining control of their blood sugar levels and blood pressure.

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Nationwide, SDPI has helped reduce new cases of kidney failure by half and reduced diabetes-related deaths by more than a third. This is a classic example of preventive care that saves lives and reduces costs for everyone. A 2019 study found that SDPI has saved $520 million over 10 years in reduced Medicare costs alone.

Cherokee Nation's proactive diabetes prevention program is recognized as one of the most thorough across Indian Country. We offer self-management education, nutritional guidance, physical activity support and medical management. We give patients the tools and education they need to effectively manage their diabetes and lead healthier lives.

On top of the federal grants offered through SDPI, the landmark Cherokee Nation Health and Wellness Fund Act is pivotal in this comprehensive effort. We are now investing Cherokee health care dollars like never before in history, filling the treatment gaps for patients struggling with diabetes care. Cherokee Nation is unwavering in our commitment to stay at the forefront of both diabetes prevention and treatment.

Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin, Jr.

Unfortunately, federal funding for SDPI is set to expire this month unless Congress acts. I am urging Congress to renew SDPI, because failing to do so would damage one of the most effective, essential health improvement efforts in the country. The preventive medicine funded through SDPI saves millions of dollars in other health costs, not to mention the priceless benefits of giving people longer, healthier lives.

Besides renewing the program, SDPI funding should be increased, made permanent, and made available for tribes to administer through self-governance agreements. This program is too important to let it become collateral damage from unrelated political conflicts.

Throughout this Diabetes Awareness Month, watch for screening events and awareness walks that Cherokee Nation Health Services and Public Health are organizing across the reservation. Our well-trained and dedicated staff love sharing this information, and Deputy Chief Bryan Warner routinely champions it as well.

In connection with this year’s Diabetes Awareness Month, Deputy Chief Warner and I are taking further action. We will launch new diabetes screening events at sites across the Cherokee Nation reservation over the course of the next year for employees and the general public. We will start on Nov. 6 from 9:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. at the W.W. Keeler Tribal Complex in our capital city of Tahlequah.

We believe this kind of outreach and screening will help thousands of our employees, as well as citizens who visit the screening sites, to catch early signs of potential diabetes so that they can make their own plans to address it in our health system. We hope this leads to even more diabetes screening efforts in Cherokee communities, especially at our community meetings across the reservation. One simple diabetes screening test can, quite simply, save a life or stem great misery.

Our efforts are founded on the principle of wellness in all aspects of life. Healthy eating and regular physical movement are a foundation of diabetes control, overall physical health, and mental well-being. We aren’t only treating a disease; we are empowering our citizens to get control of their own health.

Chuck Hoskin, Jr. is the principal chief of the Cherokee Nation.

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