A Public Voice at the NIH
Ted Mala speaks out about health disparities. He encourages others to do the same.
Ted Mala, M.D., M.P.H., is from a family of traditional healers in a small village called Buckland, Alaska, with a population of 500, no roads, no running water, and no piped sanitation. When he was 6 years old, Mala lost his father to mitral valve heart disease—a result of a childhood bout with rheumatic fever, a very big problem in Alaska at the time. He saw his aunts succumb to tuberculosis.
Today Mala, 58, is a physician and director of tribal relations at the Alaska Native Medical Center in Anchorage. He travels the globe to improve health care for Alaska Natives and other minorities. Since 2002, he's been a member of the NIH Council of Public Representatives, or COPR.
"It has been my role in life to advocate for Native Americans and to get more Native Americans to be part of the research process—not as subjects, but as new researchers," Mala explains. "I felt that, by serving on COPR, I could raise awareness of Native American needs and health disparities of all minorities, which I believe are one of the major health problems in this nation."
Mala is on his way to South Dakota to participate in listening circles with National Library of Medicine Director Donald A. B. Lindberg, M.D. "We're bringing tribes of North and South Dakota together to talk about their needs," Mala says. "We'll say, 'Tell us what you need and let us see if we can respond.' It's the way I think government should be."
He also wants to help the NIH translate its research findings into terms that the public can understand. "The public wants to see results they can relate to," Mala says. "I think it's good government and good practice to take all these very complicated genome concepts and break them down so the man on the street can understand and appreciate them. The NIH will get more support, and people affected with diseases will have a lot of new hope that wasn't there before. The public wants a sense of hope."
Mala says he encourages everyone to get involved with the NIH. "Anyone can apply to be a COPR member. It's not just well-connected people," he continues. "All of us as citizens of the United States own the NIH. This is our research arm. We should all be part of it, contributing our time, or at least investing the time to know what's going on."
"It has been my role in life to advocate for Native Americans and to get more Native Americans to be part of the research process."
"All of us as citizens of the United States own the NIH. This is our research arm. We should all be part of it, contributing our time, or at least investing the time to know what's going on."
Ted Mala, M.D., M.P.H.
This page was last reviewed on May 10, 2007 .