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Jarvis testifies about health needs of Native American children

James Jarvis has worked on American Indian and Alaska Native child health issues for more than 30 years. Photo: Douglas Levere

By ELLEN GOLDBAUM

Published March 26, 2015

James Jarvis, professor of pediatrics in the School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, testified before a congressional subcommittee yesterday about the need to support critical health programs serving American Indian and Alaska Native children.

Jarvis testified before the House Appropriations Subcommittee on the Interior, Environment and Related Agencies on behalf of the American Academy of Pediatrics.

 Jarvis, who is of Akwesasne Mohawk ancestry and chairs the American Academy of Pediatrics Committee on Native American Child Health, has worked on American Indian and Alaska Native child health issues for more than 30 years. He conducts research at UB’s Clinical and Translational Research Center and sees patients at UBMD Pediatrics at Women and Children’s Hospital of Buffalo.

In his testimony, Jarvis supported providing at least the funding requests for the Indian Health Service (IHS) as outlined in President Barack Obama’s proposed FY 2016 budget, which would provide approximately $5 billion in discretionary authority to the IHS, about a $460 million increase over the FY 2015 level. He noted the IHS provides services to a population of 2.2 million, of whom more than a third are younger than 15 years of age.

“I have seen firsthand the unmet health needs of Native children across all Indian Health Service service areas,” Jarvis said. “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.

“Children who experience strong, excessive and/or prolonged adversity in childhood without the buffer of stable and supportive relationships with caring adults suffer from toxic stress,” he said. “Toxic stress contributes to negative childhood experiences, making the prevention and treatment of toxic stress and its detrimental health effects central to improving American Indian and Alaska Native child health.”

Jarvis’ research focuses, in part, on why rheumatic diseases are so common and severe in indigenous American children, especially the role of epigenetic factors from historical traumas and cultural dislocation that may affect how these diseases are expressed in indigenous children. Jarvis currently is principal investigator on a $1.2 million National Institutes of Health grant to study biomarkers in juvenile idiopathic arthritis. He also is studying the role of epigenetics in juvenile rheumatoid arthritis supported by several foundation grants.