May 2, 2003

‘Chronic Diseases Know No Borders’

Experts, Legislators Identify Ways to Promote Health Along U.S.-Mexico Border

Health officials and state lawmakers from the United States and Mexico outlined strategies and vowed to work together to prevent chronic diseases in the border region at a National Conference of State Legislatures’ health promotion policy institute held recently in San Diego.

“Chronic diseases know no borders,” said Eva Moya, executive director of the United States-Mexico Border Health Commission. “They travel at will. They don’t need visas to come in, and neither do risk factors.”

Lawmakers and health officials from California, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas and the neighboring Mexican states of Sonora, Baja California, Chihuahua, Coahuila, Nuevo Leon and Tamaulipas attended NCSL’s U.S.-Mexico Border States Health Promotion Policy Institute. Participants recommended a list of specific strategies to address the prevention of chronic diseases in the region, including to:

 Work with existing agencies, including the United States-Mexico Border Health Commission, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Governors’ Association to implement health promotion policy initiatives throughout the region;

 Advocate healthy practices in schools, including physical education requirements and opening schools after hours for adult and youth exercise programs;

 Encourage others to view the border as its own region, rather than parts of individual states or countries;

 Use public relations campaigns to educate about chronic diseases and their risk factors, which include smoking, poor nutrition, sedentary lifestyle and obesity; and to

 Establish disease registries and collect better risk factor data for this region.

These strategies developed at the policy institute are aimed at curbing the incidence of diabetes, heart disease, stroke, cancer and asthma in a place where limited research, lack of basic infrastructure and racial discrimination can exacerbate the prevalence of chronic diseases. In some border areas, U.S. Public Health Service engineers have a three-year backlog of villages that still need running water and sanitation services, according to the U.S. Surgeon General’s office.

U.S. Surgeon General Richard Carmona and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Dr. Jim Marks, in addition to Mexican leaders, spoke at the policy institute. Carmona, who grew up under many of the conditions that exist in the border region now, told the policymakers in attendance that they must play a role in changing border conditions and improving health in the region.

“This is a room full of people tasked with that responsibility of leadership and health on America’s border and in Mexico,” Carmona said. “I charge all of you to join me so that we can bring more people with us. This is the kind of leadership that we need, by example. It’s going to be hard. It’s an uphill battle, but we need to not give up... I will dedicate myself to creating a legacy of positive change for the border region, for America and for the global community, which I now serve, and I will do that with your help and leadership.”

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