June 20, 2003

Better safe than sorry

The Mexican Consulate in San Diego is inaugurating a new service to the community, the Health Window Program

By Mariana Martinez

No matter the circumstances, going away from your country to another one is a situation where people tend to be vulnerable; not speaking the language, being of a different race and not knowing the city, are often situations that translate into loneliness, isolation, fear of rejection and the feeling that you can’t access your rights outside your native land.

If being undocumented or waiting on a resolution about your immigration status magnifies that scenario then the situation can be much worst. The isolation set by migration often leads to lack of access to education and health services.

This great population movement that marks our times represents a more complex problem to local and state governments than the health problems arising in their own territory, but as the immigration phenomenon is getting more common, an organized answer by communities involved seems like the best answer.

According to the University of California Policy Research Center (http://www.ucop.edu/cprc): There are 35 million Latinos living in the US; 21 million are of Mexican decent, that’s 60% - 8.5 million where born in México, 2 million are naturalized and 6.5 million are non-citizens.

They estimate that 44% of the Mexican immigrants living in the US are in California, mainly in Los Angeles.

For the past 13 years the Mexican government has tried to find a way to create problem solving programs that help better the quality of life for Mexican immigrants, but it hasn’t been until recently that their ideas have finally come to the aid of those living outside México.

In the issue of health, the San Diego and Los Angeles Mexican Consulates started a pilot plan called the Health Window, this past Wednesday, June 11 (even though LA has been working now for a month) with direct support from nine organizations, including the Mexican Foreign Policy Agency, California Endowment, Education and Advocacy Consumer Center for Health and US-Mexico Border Health Commission who put together over one million dollars needed for the investment, jump started by the California Endowment Foundation with $746 thousand dollars.

The program seeks to help over 70,000 people this year and 174,000 at the end of the two year period, just in San Diego. If the plan succeeds, it will expand to the rest of the 47 Consulates across the US, starting by cities with a large immigrant population such as Houston and Chicago.

The health window.

The program called the Health Window was formally introduced this past Wednesday June 11 with the presence of Mr. Roberto Tapia-Conyer, Mexican Health Commission Vicepresident; Mr. Cándido Morales, Director of the Mexicans living outside of México Institute; Sr. Michael Drake, University of California Health affairs vice-president and, Cinthyia Téllez California Endowment board members vice-president.

Javier, Rafa y Ejival giving information about the program Health Window.

So what is this Health Window?

The health window is thought of as a place inside the consulate, where people from any nationality or legal status can have access to information about health services available to them, and general information about the health system in the US. The purpose is to help Mexicans living in the US learn about their opportunities and make informed decisions about their health, including the right to go to a local health clinic or preventive care against common diseases.

Health promoters and professionals who will talk to the people when they come to ask for a passport will provide the service. They will give out a health care directory including those institutions better suited for people who are undocumented, low income families, naturalized and US citizens specifying those with state and federal funding, that way people can take better care of themselves and their families.

But this program sounds expensive, some critics may ask, won’t it cave in California’s already weak health system? Won’t it encourage people to come to California?

As University of California Health affairs vice-president Mr. Drake explained, the US has been operating under a “sickness system” where the majority of available resources go to the cure of illness and not prevention, but the new programs —such as the Health Window— are aimed to reduce illness by early detection and lowering costs in treatment. According to his numbers, a dollar is spent in the US for every $3,999 dollars spent on treatments and that is what’s caving the Health system we all pay for.

During the meeting, they made it clear that most immigrants pay more taxes than what they spend, so what this program does is help them get access to the health system they are contributing to pay.

According to numbers University of California Policy Research Center 91% of farmworkers in California where born in México and they help produce a total of $30,000 million dollars a year.

Just 1/3 of farm workers in the US have medical insurance.

From the roots up.

According to Mr. Tapia-Conyer, a lot is being done to help the serious health problems the migrant community is facing. Information about how to stay healthy has been handed out in the 11 Mexican States where most people come from, to the US, and information about their rights and access to consular help has been added.

So the service really starts in México, with the program “leave healthy come back healthy” that seeks to extend to Mexican Consulates through educators and health promoters that will talk to people who go to the consulate to do some paperwork, such as the passport or consular matriculate. This way people may learn how to prevent diseases and early prevention trough HIV tests, cancer prevention, high cholesterol, high pressure or diabetes.

It has become ever so crucial considering the fact there has been a significant increase in HIV cases in rural México with high migrant population. Families get separated for long periods of time making prostitution and affairs more common, and heightening the risk of Sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV:

The University of California Policy Research Center also found alarming numbers:

 1.2 million Mexicans living in the US have been diagnosed with Diabetes.

 In 1999 25% of AIDS patients in California were Latinos, 40% were from Mexican decent and 86% of them where born in México.

 17% of Latinas have invasive cervical cancer, (among white female population the number is 7.4%).

 The most common cause of death among Latinos is heart disease.

 The number of children born to teenage mothers is 4 times higher in Latino girls than in white girls.

The program established by the Health Commission (in México) “leave healthy come back healthy” is part of a global health initiative with an initial budget of 55 million pesos (5.5 million dollars) plus the 500,000 dollars each consulate would take from their own budget to give some kind of continuity to the health care of so many Mexicans who are now living in the US.

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