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AROUND THE AMERICAS

U.S., Mexico Promote Border Health

The United States and Mexico recently staged a series of joint public health events along the U.S.-Mexico border that highlight the benefits of international cooperation in pursuing joint health goals.

The events were part of the Healthy Border 2010 initiative, which promotes community-based programs in priority areas for border health, such as diabetes, disaster preparedness, injury prevention, immunization and health promotion.

The first U.S.-Mexico Border Binational Health Week took place on Oct. 11-17 and was sponsored by the U.S.-Mexico Border Health Commission, Mexico's Secretariat of Health, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), among others.

The series of events included health fairs, workshops, seminars, conferences, health walks, and public clinics—in all, more than 200 health promotion activities in 14 sister cities on both sides of the border.

PAHO Deputy Director Joxel García, appearing at the Border Binational Health Week with U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Tommy Thompson and Secretary of Health of Mexico Julio Frenk, called the joint efforts "a model for bilateral collaboration that other countries can follow."

In July and October, the two countries held border-area vaccination drives as follow-ups to PAHO's hemisphere-wide Vaccination Week in the Americas in April. The drives were designed to ensure that children on both sides of the border received the three doses of vaccine needed for full immunity.

Activities on the Mexican side of the border included public service announcements aired on television and radio urging parents to take their children to local health clinics to be vaccinated. In addition, trained volunteers went house-to-house inviting parents to vaccinate their children and providing vaccines on the spot upon request.

On the U.S. side, public service announcements featured parents promising to vaccinate their children, and health clinics opened their doors for walk-in immunization. The initiatives included a number of health fairs, such as one held in Dona Ana County, New Mexico, which drew more than 3,000 people.

A key partner in getting the word out on the U.S. side was Head Start, a preschool program of the Department of Health and Human Services, which tied vaccination to its back-to-school activities.

The most recent vaccination week was carried out as part of Border Binational Health Week.

Border health concerns are unique and stem from a number of interrelated problems, including poverty, lower levels of education, poor access to health care, inadequate health care resources, high levels of communicable diseases and a rapidly growing population. With large numbers of people crossing the border daily in both directions, the risk of cross-border transmission of communicable diseases such as HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis increases, as do risky behaviors such as substance abuse.

Health conditions vary significantly on different sides of the border, as is evident in vaccination rates. On the U.S. side, an estimated 70 percent of children under 3 are vaccinated, below the U.S. national rate of 79 percent (as of 2003). In contrast, Mexican border states have higher coverage rates than the country as a whole, with 97 percent of children under 1 year vaccinated. Among the goals of the Healthy Border 2010 initiative is to maintain immunization coverage at 95 percent or higher for Mexican children ages 1 to 4 years and to achieve, by 2010, immunization rates of 90 percent for U.S. children 19 to 35 months old.

Cristina Beato, U.S. assistant secretary of health, was on hand for the launching of the April vaccination week and urged parents to keep their children up to date on their vaccines. U.S. Surgeon General Richard Carmona visited San Diego, California, during the second vaccination week and congratulated 300 health promoters for their work with border residents. PAHO's U.S.-Mexico Border Field Office, in El Paso, Texas, is a key partner in Healthy Border 2010.

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