April 21, 2009

National Library of Medicine Feature: Native Hawaiian Health

Whoa! Dr. Lindberg, the Director of the National Library of Medicine, talks about Native Hawaiian Health and Hansen's Disease (aka Leprosy) in Kalaupapa in his weekly podcast for MedlinePlus. MedlinePlus is an excellent resource for health education funded by the U.S. government with cool things like surgery videos, basic health topics and interactive tutorials.

Here are some excerpts from this week's podcast:
The health status of Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders is a major challenge for the physicians and traditional healers who serve the indigenous peoples of Hawaii, Guam, Samoa, and other Pacific Islands. However, the efforts to improve health care are fostering some imaginative, culturally appropriate approaches in Hawaii, including a network of clinics that combine western medicine with native healing, plus an interest in community outreach within the state's medical school and other health care organizations.

Kalaupapa is a reminder of ignorance, medical research dissemination and challenges, the ancient stigma attached to Hansen's disease, as well as human courage -- all nestled within one of nature's majestic settings.

Kalaupapa is a remote peninsula on the Hawaiian island of Molokai where from 1866-1969 about 8,000 persons with Hansen's disease (also known as leprosy) were exiled and quarantined. Dr. Lindberg led an NLM team (including me) that recently visited some of the remaining patients and providers.

Hansen's disease is treated today by a multi-drug combination that succeeded sulfone medications, which provided the original breakthrough management of the infectious disease starting in the 1940s. The drugs brought a quick reduction of symptoms, significant improvements in a Hansen's disease patient's quality of life, and removed the possibility that a patient in treatment was contagious.

Dr. Lindberg provides a great synopsis of issues in Hawaiian health that I must admit, I've taken for granted having grown up in here. So it's refreshing to hear a distinguished official from the Mainland take an interest in our little corner of the world.

Transcripts and Audio:
Native Hawaiian Health (audio podcast)
Kalaupapa & Hansen's Disease (audio podcast)

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