U.S. Health Secretary Azar visits Alaska Native Medical Center

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) – The United States Secretary of Health and Human Services, Alex Azar, paid a visit to the Alaska Native Medical Center on Wednesday stopping in Alaska on his way back from Taiwan where he met with President Tsai Ing-wen on Sunday.

Azar toured the ANMC campus and met with Alaskan congressional delegation along with Alaska’s DHSS commissioner Adam Crum for a roundtable discussion about the health issues facing Native Alaskan communities across the state. The HHS secretary said Alaska is near and dear to his heart visiting previously in the early 2000′s.

“I’m so pleased to see, how much progress was made to better access to services since I was last able to be in Alaska,” Azar said.

Azar highlighted the funding the Alaska delegation had fought for in Washington D.C. along with the efforts to improve rural health care, including tribal health care across America.

“The state of Alaska and Alaska Native communities have much to be proud of in how you’ve responded to COVID-19 the challenging everyday circumstance we see here in Alaska,” Azar said.

Murkowski also applauded ANMC and others for their response to COVID-19 in rural Alaska but stressed the work that still needs to be done in these communities.

“It’s a pretty basic message wash your hands, keep yourself clean, but in many parts of our state that is many times near impossible,” Senator Murkowski said. “How far we still have to go when it comes to sanitation facilities some 32 communities that still have nothing when it comes to what we would describe as basic infrastructure.”

Earlier this week Dr. Robert Onders with the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium told KTUU Alaska Natives have a higher rate of hospitalization, a higher rate of death, and a higher rate of COVID. Azar spoke about the disproportionate rates of COVID-19 impacting minority groups including Alaska Natives, something he says they are continuing to learn more about.

“That’s been a part of our discussion today at the Consortium, Native Medical Health Center, is how we can really protect the Alaska Native population especially in the villages,” Azar said.

He added they now require demographic information to be reported with lab testing for coronavirus.

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