Babaamaajimowinan (Telling of news in different places)

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

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.

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.


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