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2024 National Tribal Health Conference

National Tribal Health Conference 2024: Closing Plenary Highlights

The National Indian Health Board’s National Tribal Health Conference 2024 concluded with a dynamic and insightful closing plenary, encapsulating the critical discussions and forward-looking strategies aimed at improving healthcare for American Indian and Alaska Native (AI/AN) communities. Here are the key takeaways from the session:

Lloyd Miller

Lloyd Miller opened the session with reflections on the legal battles fought to secure contract support costs for Tribal health. He highlighted the crucial role of Tribal sovereignty payments and the significance of three Supreme Court cases that have shaped the landscape. Miller praised the Indian Health Service (IHS) for championing Tribal health, though he acknowledged past challenges in Tribal self-governance. He emphasized the importance of reclassifying certain costs as mandatory spending to alleviate the burden on the IHS budget.

Abigail Echo-Hawk

Abigail Echo-Hawk delivered a powerful address on Indigenous data sovereignty, emphasizing the need to decolonize data systems. She highlighted the importance of framing data narratives in a way that recognizes the strength and resilience of AIAN communities, rather than deficits. Echo-Hawk underscored that data should be used for and by Native people, advocating for culturally grounded data protocols and practices.

Syphilis Panel Discussion

A panel comprising Jessica Leston, DrPH, MPH, Tsimshian, HCV/HIV/STI Clinical Programs Director for the Northwest Portland Area Indian Health Board, Meghan O’Connell, MD, MPH, Chief Public Health Officer, Great Plains Tribal Epidemiology Center, and Melissa Wyaco, Registered Nurse, Navajo Area Indian Health Service, addressed the rising syphilis cases in AI/AN communities, highlighting the challenges of disease intervention and contact tracing. They discussed the barriers such as lack of transportation, financial constraints, and transient populations, which complicate contact tracing efforts. The panel presented innovative solutions like field antibiotic treatments by public health nurses, which have shown promising results in reducing syphilis cases.

The panelists called for culturally responsive contact tracing and comprehensive responses to syphilis outbreaks, emphasizing the importance of integrating Tribal knowledge with public health practices. They also highlighted the connection between syphilis and opioid use, stressing the need for more resources and culturally sensitive approaches to address these intertwined issues.

Data Modernization and Health IT

Eric Cole and Robert, along with Andrea Scott and Sarah, discussed the advancements and challenges in health IT and data modernization. Cole shared the difficulties faced in obtaining COVID-19 data from state authorities, leading to the development of a Tribal contact tracing system. The discussion highlighted the need for real-time data access and the success of health IT modernization projects in improving healthcare access and delivery.

Final Takeaways

The closing plenary reiterated the necessity of collaboration, advocacy, and culturally informed approaches to address health disparities in AI/AN communities. Wyaco emphasized the importance of reducing stigma and ensuring access to care, while Leston and O’Connell called for increased investment and advocacy for Tribal-led health initiatives. Janet Alkire, Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, Great Plains Area Representative for NIHB, concluded with a powerful reminder that solving these issues requires collective effort and unity.

As the conference drew to a close, participants left with a renewed commitment to harness their collective knowledge, cultural strengths, and advocacy efforts to drive significant improvements in AI/AN healthcare. The National Tribal Health Conference 2024 underscored the resilience, innovation, and collaborative spirit needed to achieve health equity for AI/ANs.

National Indian Health Board
50 F St NW, Suite 600 | Washington, DC 20001 | Phone: 202-507-4070 | Email: [email protected]