Quantcast

Facing Unchecked Syphilis Outbreak, Great Plains Tribes Sought Federal Help. Months Later, No One Has Responded.

PRO PUBLICA – The syphilis rate among [American Indians] in the Great Plains is higher than at any point in 80 years of records. More than 3% of Native American babies born in South Dakota last year had the preventable and curable — but potentially fatal — disease.

It was 2022 when pediatrician Tom Herr realized just how many babies on the Rosebud reservation in South Dakota were already infected with syphilis when they took their first breaths.

He was seeing more and more patients who’d spent their first weeks in a tangle of tubes that pumped antibiotics into their tiny bodies. Some had died in the womb.

With growing alarm, Herr and other health officials spread the word, appealing to bosses at the federal Indian Health Service and tribal health authorities, writing op-eds and talking to reporters. But as the months ticked by, the crisis mounted.

By 2023, an astonishing 3% of all Native American babies born in South Dakota were infected.

“Syphilis, which is transmitted primarily through sexual intercourse, is easily treatable.”

...article continued below
- Advertisement -

Now, according to tribal leaders, the syphilis rate among American Indians and Alaska Natives in the Great Plains surpasses any recorded rate in the United States since 1941, when it was discovered that penicillin could treat the infection.

Desperate for help, in late February of this year tribal leaders from four Great Plains states took the extreme step of asking U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra to declare a public health emergency.

The Great Plains Tribal Leaders’ Health Board asked the secretary to deploy commissioned officers from the U.S. Public Health Service to help diagnose and treat people for syphilis, and to provide emergency funding for the tribes to improve their response capabilities.

More than 10 weeks later, Becerra has not responded.

“We need to free up resources so we can take extraordinary measures to respond to these extraordinary circumstances,” said Meghan Curry O’Connell, chief public health officer for the tribal health board …

“Babies infected in the womb can be born in excruciating pain, with deformed bones, brain damage or other serious complications. They can even die.” 

...article continued below
- Advertisement -

READ MORE.  

- Advertisement -
- Advertisement -
- Advertisement -

TRENDING

- Advertisement -
- Advertisement -