Indigenous Peoples’ Day celebrates the history, culture, and contributions of America’s indigenous populations. However, in the United States, disparities in health care mean indigenous communities are still disproportionately affected by disease. As the professional organization for the doctors who diagnose disease, the College of American Pathologists is shining a light on these gaps in care.
Many of the diseases adversely impacting indigenous populations are treatable and/or preventable. For example, the National Indian Council on Aging reports that American Indian and Alaskan Native (AIAN) women are almost twice as likely to develop cervical cancer compared to their White non-Hispanic counterparts and four times as likely to die from it. AIAN women also have a 7% higher rate of developing breast cancer than White women, as well as a 10% higher death rate—it’s the second leading cause of cancer death among indigenous women, according to the American Indian Cancer Foundation.
Both of these cancers are treatable, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention claims that 93% of cervical cancers are preventable if abnormalities are detected early. But AIAN women deal with numerous barriers to care, which results in their being diagnosed later (if at all), when many diseases have already progressed. These barriers include lack of health insurance, distrust of health care providers/the health care system, living in remote reservation locations, and more..
Work is being done to bridge the gap in care for vulnerable populations, but more efforts are needed. According to a 2022 study published by American Cancer Society, overall cancer rates among AIAN individuals were 2% higher than among White individuals for incidence but 18% higher for mortality. This steep difference in mortality rates underscores the need for health education and preventative strategies and better access to screening and treatment options for the AIAN population.
Read the Strategic Plan of the Pan American Health Organization 2020-2025: Equity at the Heart of Health to learn more about how to mitigate health care disparities affecting minority populations.