- By Chuck Hoskin Jr
Guest Opinion. At Cherokee Nation and across America, we recognize November as Diabetes Awareness Month. An estimated one in 10 Americans has diabetes. In Indian Country, the numbers are even higher, with more than one in six of the adult population affected. During Diabetes Awareness Month, we are making extra efforts to educate Cherokees about this serious disease.
All year round, we are proactive about preventing and treating diabetes among Cherokee citizens. The Special Diabetes Program for Indians (SDPI) is one of the most effective resources for American Indians struggling with diabetes. SDPI is a federal grant available to tribes throughout the nation, and Cherokee Nation operates the country’s largest SDPI program with about 11,000 patients. Nationwide, SDPI has helped reduce new cases of kidney failure by half and reduced diabetes-related deaths by more than a third. Among Cherokee Nation Health’s diabetes patients, we’ve reached an in-control rate of nearly 70 percent.
This is a classic example of preventive care that saves lives and reduces costs for everyone. Cherokee Nation optimizes every dollar to provide high-quality health care, including helping our people with the rising cost of diabetes treatments and medications. We are also investing in wellness accessibility, such as walking trails and enhanced community centers that offer exercise options and nutrition education across our 7,000-square-mile reservation.
When we talk about dramatic and positive lifestyle changes, no one better embodies that than District 8 Tribal Council Member Shawn Crittenden. Over the past year, my friend Shawn experienced a life-altering health scare related to diabetes. He was hospitalized in critical condition. Thankfully, our team of medical experts got him on the road to recovery. But Shawn didn’t stop there. He made a vow to his family and to his constituents that he would commit to healthier living. As a true leader and great example for our people, he drastically changed his diet, losing 70 pounds and emerging from his health crisis much stronger. Our team helped him with nutrition and self-management education, physical activity ideas and medical management.
Without a doubt, Cherokee Nation’s diabetes program is one of our most successful public health initiatives. But we don’t do it alone. We collaborate with many state and community partners, supporting public school education and activities like Farm-to-School to reduce risk of diabetes for our youngest Cherokees. By developing good habits early on, we can avoid the worst of diabetic complications later in life, including heart attacks, strokes, blindness, amputations and kidney failure.
As part of the 2022 Awareness Month, Cherokee Nation plans to offer screening events at each of our nine clinics. Like Council Member Crittenden has shown us, we can overcome health challenges to extend our lives and the time we have to spend with loved ones. Together, we can become healthier Cherokees and a healthier Cherokee Nation.
Chuck Hoskin, Jr. is the principal chief of the Cherokee Nation.
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