Monday, October 29, 2012

Healthy borders

The many challenges facing communities living on the U.S.-Mexico border were explored during a Monday session on "Border Health–PAHO." That's the Pan American Health Organization for those new to the world of global health.

Four presenters highlighted unique public health topics that exist on both sides of the border, such as immunizations, violence and injury prevention, mental health and communicable diseases.

Immunization is one of the most cost-effective public health strategies and the most socially accepted; yet, it's a preventive tactic that the border region still struggles to employ. Those who migrate to the U.S. are often missing vaccinations, resulting in gaps in immunization coverage. In addition, immunization requirements vary by region, so those who migrate to the U.S. from Mexico with little or no health records may not receive any vaccines or get duplicate doses.

To address the issue, presenter Gustavo Iturralde, a health promotion officer with PAHO, told attendees that “institutions on both sides of the border have strengthened in order to increase immunization coverage and decrease inequities.” This includes increasing communication between the two nations and between health care agencies to prevent the overuse of these valuable and limited resources.

High rates of communicable diseases, such as TB, syphilis and HIV/AIDS, are also plaguing communities surrounding the U.S.-Mexico border.

“These obstacles arise due to legal issues, continuity of care (due to deportation) and complexities of reporting and case management," said presenter and PAHO officer Enrique Perez-Flores, who highlighted the need to "strengthen binational information systems and surveillance.”

Violence in media coverage and its effects on viewers were explored at the global health session as well. Lorely Ambriz, also with PAHO, provided an in-depth analysis of a three-week study conducted in the Mexican city of Juarez on violence in the media (television, images and newspaper headlines) and its effects on mothers and young girls. Ambriz revealed that “on average, more than 50 percent of [media content] focused on the topic of violence.” Study participants felt conflicted and “stressed whether they [should] watch or read the media,” while young girls perceived their community in a negative light.

To address the media-violence issue, Maria Teresa Cerqueira, also with PAHO, discussed the objectives and community impact of the Violence and Injury Prevention Initiative in Juarez. The initiative focuses on strengthening mental health in primary care and promoting cultural changes.

“The initiative has trained approximately 400 community health workers in 31 social health facilities to identify and refer individuals in need and at risk for mental illness and psychological problems," Cerqueira said. "Over 3,200 people have been referred.”

Children are also involved in the initiative’s services, as they are encouraged to engage in silly putty, photography and silkscreen workshops to cultivate their young minds.

— T.H.

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