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Health
Rural Alaska Natives at risk due to lack of in-home water


Alaska Natives who live in rural homes without running water are more likely to suffer from respiratory and skin infections, according to a study released on Tuesday.

While in-house water is enjoyed by 99.4 percent of U.S. homes, only about 84 percent of rural Alaskan homes have complete sanitation services. Of the Alaska Native homes surveyed in the study, only 73 percent had water service.

The disparity was correlated to disproportionately high rates of certain diseases among rural Alaska Natives. In some villages, infants were 11 times as likely and elders were more than twice as likely to be hospitalized for health problems.

Study authors warned that the data doesn't prove that inadequate sanitation services caused respiratory and skin infections. But when they looked at villages with the lowest level of water services, they found higher rates for respiratory infections among infants and for skin and soft-tissue infections among adults.

And in particular region with the lowest level of in-home water service, more than a quarter of all infants are hospitalized each year for influenza or for pneumonia. Infant pneumonia can lead to lifelong respiratory problems.

"Access to clean water for hand washing and hygiene is extremely important to preventing disease," said author Thomas Hennessy, M.D., director of Arctic Investigation Programs at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "Without better access to in-home water for hand washing and hygiene, Alaska Natives will continue to face higher rates of largely preventable infections."

Despite the clear benefits of in-home water service, federal funding for sanitation facilities construction has flat-lined under the Bush administration. The fiscal year 2009 budget seeks $94 million for the program, the same level as 2008 and 2007.

"What we have in many of our villages, still, unfortunately, is a system we refer to as the honey-bucket system," Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), the vice chair of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee said in January during consideration of the Indian Health Care Improvement Act.

"It is not a very refined system. In fact, it is a system that, for those of us in the state, we look at with shame and say: For Alaska Natives, for Alaskans to have to rely on this as their sanitation system is offensive," she added.

The study is being published by the American Journal of Public Health. It was the result of a two-year collaboration between the CDC, the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium and the Indian Health Service.

Relevant Documnents:
CDC Press Release | Study Abstract | Full Article [requires purchase or subscription]

FY2009 Budget Documents:
HHS In Brief | GPRA Performance | More IHS Documents

Related Stories:
IHS budget sees cut in final year of Bush era (2/6)