Published January 19, 2021
As UB seeks to expand its commitment to Indigenous studies, a new course being offered this spring in the School of Public Health and Health Professions aims to teach students about the health disparities Indigenous populations face.
The Indigenous health disparities course will be taught by Dean S. Seneca, who grew up in Buffalo and whose family origins are founded in Western New York with the Seneca Nation of Indians. A nationally recognized expert in health sciences and a global advocate for the underserved, Seneca, who has master’s degrees in public health and city and regional planning, is CEO and founder of Seneca Scientific Solutions+. The company, based in Cattaraugus, N.Y., aims to create healthier and safer communities through evidence-based practices.
The course is intended to support future public health leaders as they strive to become experts in promoting well-being throughout the world.
“The outbreak of COVID-19 has made it clear that health officials need to be better prepared to handle such global pandemics,” says Seneca, who designed the course curriculum and will hold an adjunct position in the Department of Community Health and Health Behavior. “Part of that preparedness is understanding that, on a global level, Indigenous people experience lower life expectancy, lower quality of life and a higher prevalence of many chronic and infectious diseases in comparison to other populations.”
Seneca has more than 20 years of experience in the field of infectious disease outbreaks, including anthrax, H1N1, Ebola, Zika and now COVID-19. He previously served as a senior health scientist in the Partnership Support Unit within the Office for State, Tribal, Local and Territorial Support at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“Using an evidence-based approach, I will draw on my 20-plus years of work with the CDC, and my experience in the field of infectious disease outbreaks, to provide students with an overview of the many health issues impacting Indigenous populations today and into the future,” Seneca says.
The course will also explore the social determinants of health, intergenerational trauma, health equity, and racism and health.
Students will examine the real histories of Indigenous peoples, their cultural norms and adaptations, their traditional healing practices, and the impacts of colonization on them through the advancement of westernization, all of which are key public health issues, according to Seneca.
“Studying these medical inequities from their (Native) perspective — the social reasons why they occur and within the context of the current health crises of the COVID-19 pandemic — will not only help provide insights into understanding health equity but provide critical information to improve the health and well-being of Indigenous people,” he explains.
“We are building the tool kits to improve the ways in which public health professionals manage such crises — and ultimately save lives.”
Seneca received his bachelor’s degree from UB and both master’s degrees from the University of Hawaii at Manoa.
Adding the course to the school’s curriculum is a nod to the very land upon which UB sits, notes Heather Orom, associate dean for equity, diversity and inclusion in the School of Public Health and Health Professions.
“Offering coursework on Indigenous health is a necessary addition to the UB public health curriculum,” Orom says. “UB is built on Seneca land, and this is an overdue step toward deepening our connection with our local community, as well as graduating better-informed and skilled public health professionals.”
Registration for the course is currently open.