Published July 13, 2015
Testifying before a congressional subcommittee, James N. Jarvis, MD, clinical professor of pediatrics, advocated for increased federal funding for health programs serving American Indian and Alaska Native children.
“I have seen firsthand the unmet health needs of Native children,” Jarvis told legislators considering the budget for the federal Indian Health Service.
“The prevention and treatment of toxic stress and its detrimental health effects is central to improving the health of American Indian and Alaska Native children,” said Jarvis, chief of pediatric allergy/immunology and rheumatology.
“Children who experience strong, excessive or prolonged adversity in childhood — without the buffer of stable and supportive relationships with caring adults — suffer from toxic stress,” he explained.
“Poverty, alcoholism, substance abuse, chronic illness, child abuse and other poor health and social conditions are not the cause of problems in Native communities, but the symptoms of them.”
Jarvis spoke on behalf of the American Academy of Pediatrics, as chair of the Committee on Native American Child Health. He addressed members of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on the Interior, Environment and Related Agencies.
Jarvis, who is of Akwesasne Mohawk ancestry, has worked to better understand and improve the health of American Indian and Alaska Native children for more than 30 years.
Through UB’s Clinical and Translational Research Center, he studies rheumatic disease and the effects of trauma and toxic stress among Native American children.
Jarvis’s research focuses, in part, on why rheumatic diseases are so common and severe in indigenous American children. He studies the role of epigenetic, or environmental, factors that affect gene expression and may be inherited. He is exploring how factors that stem from historical traumas and cultural dislocation may affect how rheumatic diseases are expressed in these children.
Jarvis is leading a study of biomarkers in juvenile idiopathic arthritis, using a $1.2 million grant from the National Institutes of Health. He also is studying epigenetic factors associated with this disease, with support from private foundations.
In his testimony, Jarvis supported allocating at least approximately $5 billion in discretionary authority to the IHS in fiscal year 2016 — about $460 million more than in 2015. This is the level proposed by President Barack Obama.
The federal agency partners with tribal communities to provide health care for 2.2 million American Indian and Alaska Natives, more than a third of whom are younger than 15, Jarvis noted.
Native Americans face lingering health disparities, including lower life expectancy and a disproportionate disease burden compared to other Americans, according to the agency.
On the local level, Jarvis contributed to a historic agreement between the IHS and the University at Buffalo’s health sciences schools — including the School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences.
The collaborators are working to improve the health of Native people in New York State and Southern Ontario through research, training, graduate education, direct health care and community outreach.