The recent federal budget extension includes funding for the reauthorization of the Special Diabetes Program for Indians.

This is significant for the Cherokee Nation and all of Indian Country. The budget for SDPI has been renewed at the current funding level of $150 million until the end of FY 2019.

Sadly, one in four Cherokees over age 50, and one in three over age 60, has diabetes. But through the federal investment in SDPI, Cherokee Nation has received the resources needed to address our disproportionate burden of diabetes. SDPI is a lifesaving program and continues to play a significant role in improving health care quality and access for Cherokee families.

Established in 1997, SDPI currently supports more than 300 diabetes programs in 35 states that have led to significant advances in diabetes education, prevention and treatment. Last year, more than 10,000 diabetes patients in the Cherokee Nation Tribal Jurisdictional Service Area benefited from SDPI.

SDPI funds have been utilized to support nearly 30 schools and Cherokee community organizations in increasing physical activity levels and healthy nutrition for schoolchildren and community members. It’s critical we begin the education process with our youngest citizens to ensure they grow up eating healthy and getting plenty of physical activity.

Cherokee Nation’s program, one of our most successful public health programs, targets Type 2 diabetes through collaborations with coalitions that include the state, municipalities and communities to implement programs such as Farm-to-School efforts to reduce diabetes risk factors. We have served 527 participants with prediabetes education and activities, which resulted in a loss of 4,478 pounds and an average weight loss of 8.5 pounds per Cherokee Nation participant.

Recently, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published data that shows some diabetes rates are improving for tribal citizens. Native people have experienced a 54 percent decline in rates of end-stage renal disease due to diabetes, which represents the steepest decline of any ethnic group. These kinds of improvements have resulted in significantly more patients with controlled blood sugar, blood pressure and cholesterol. These health indicators are associated with the reduction of diabetic complications, including heart attack, strokes, blindness, amputations and kidney failure.

Simply put, SDPI is saving lives in Cherokee Nation, transforming communities and saving our federal health care system dollars. We are pleased congressional leaders did the right thing and continued its funding.

Bill John Baker is the Principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation.