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Border health program lands $2.3 million

By Irene Hsiao
Arizona Daily Wildcat
October 9, 1998
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Thanks to a new $2.3 million UA grant, some residents of Arizona's border towns will be living longer, healthier lives.

U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently awarded the University of Arizona College of Medicine a grant to promote health and prevent diseases in rural communities along the Arizona-Mexico border.

The five-year grant will finance the college's Southwest Center for Community Health Promotion, which will operate through the Arizona Prevention Center.

The Southwest Center's purpose is to reduce health risks near the Mexico-Arizona border through research and education.

Michael Lebowitz, director of epidemiology at the UA Arizona Prevention Center, said border town residents often are prone to diseas and other health risks because they aren't well-informed about diet, hygiene and need for regular check-ups.

"We're looking at the broad perspective of prevention involving all of the border communities - specifically, the early detection of cervical cancer, breast cancer, human papilloma (benign tumors), diabetes and heart disease in Cochise County," said Lebowitz, a UA professor.

The Southwest Center's first project will be to screen women in the Southern Arizona towns of Douglas and Elfrida for certain chronic diseases.

Staff at the center plan to recruit community health workers, known as "promatores de salud," from the towns and train them to help screen patients for heart disease, breast cancer and diabetes. Several hundred women will participate in the project.

Joel Meister, director of the Arizona Cancer Center's Women's Cancer Prevention Research Initiative, said the center wants to increase community participation in health promotion.

"We'd like to see the community take over and to expand," Meister said.

After the project, which will not last more than three years, the center will continue to research and develop ways to prevent certain chronic illnesses.

In addition to diseases, general health problems caused by obesity, lack of exercise and poor nutrition affect the population of these communities as well.

"This is because of the lack of access to medical care and education," Lebowitz said.

Some conditions are more difficult to prevent than others, he said.

For instance, residents of many farming communities suffer from asthma, caused by pesticides sprayed on crops.

The center is not going it alone. The Arizona Department of Health Services and community members on both sides of the border also are involved.

"Arizona and Sonora (Mexico) are both working together to interrelate projects," Lebowitz said.

Lebowitz said he hopes Centers for Disease Control officials will convince Congress to give them more funding.

"The hope is that this (grant) will even double," Lebowitz said. "If things work out, we'll apply for another five years."

Irene Hsiao can be reached via e-mail at Irene.Hsiao@wildcat.arizona.edu.