BORDER HEALTH: Groups Fight TB, HIV Spread
"As traffic between the United States and Mexico increases because of the North American Free Trade Agreement" and health care providers subsequently face "the growing need of millions of people who live and work in the contiguous region spanning both sides of the border," projects such as the Border Health Initiative (BHI) have become vital to curbing the spread of diseases like tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS, which have the potential to create "dramatic" problems in the area. According to Dr. Blanca Lomeli, director of Project Concern International, the health impact of these diseases "is just starting to be felt" in border areas such as San Diego-Tijuana and Calexico-Mexicali. "TB is a highly contagious disease that is especially dangerous along our active border because of the high transiency rate," she said, adding, "It's common knowledge along the border that TB travels south to north and HIV/AIDS from north to south." San Diego reported more than 8,000 HIV cases last year, and Tijuana has Mexico's second highest urban rate of the disease, with 800 known cases last year. To prevent the diseases' spread, groups like BHI provide technical assistance and support to the region's binational committees, as well as support for substance abuse education programs. BHI also has tried to foster better communication among community-based organizations and public health agencies so they can "design, implement, manage and evaluate binational health programs to institute change on a broad scale." However, while TB, HIV and substance abuse are the border cities' "major" health threats, "they are part of a larger pattern of declining health on the border," the California Wellness Foundation's Portfolio reports. Ruth Holton of CWF said, "Border health is an extraordinarily complex problem that requires dealing with cultures and bureaucracies in different countries and counties on both sides of the border. Even more problematic is the fact that each entity may have very different perceptions of the severity of the health problems they mutually face." But, Lomeli noted, "Despite some of the difficulties we've had, I see a real desire among key decision-makers and health departments on both sides of the border to make it a better 'country.' ... There's hope ... that things are going to be better" (CWF Portfolio, Winter 1999-2000 issue).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.