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Digital Subscriptions > Newsweek International > 29th July 2016 > A TRIBE CALLED CANCER

A TRIBE CALLED CANCER

Is the U.S. government breaking its treaties with Native Americans by not providing adequate preventive cancer care?

(@RossKUrken)

PARCHED: The Navajo Nation is a sovereign state, but residents are dependent on Indian Health Services, which is funded by the U.S. government.
WALLY SKALIJ/LOS ANGELES TIMES/GETTY

THERE’S A cruel joke often told in Indian country: “Don’t get sick after June.” The sick truth beneath those words is that by summertime the Indian Health Service—tasked with providing basic health care to the nation’s 2 million Native Americans and Alaska Natives—has typically blown its meager fiscal year budget. Perhaps even more dangerous to the health of natives across the United States: The IHS does not provide coverage for preventive services. Without those types of checkups—the mammograms, colonoscopies and other services that are mandated by the Affordable Care Act—cancers often don’t get found until it’s too late.

This infuriates many community advocates, like Donald Warne, the first Native American doctor to serve on the national board of directors of the American Cancer Society. “People are suffering and dying unnecessarily,” says Warne, who is also the chairman of the department of public health at North Dakota State University, the only master’s of public health program with a Native American concentration. “If someone does not have insurance, and they’re dependent on IHS, a [cancer] screening does not occur.”

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Curing Cancer - Beating the disease sometimes means beating back prejudices.