With presidential politics once again pushing a negative image of the U.S.-Mexico border into the spotlight, I feel compelled to share this timely story that illustrates the positive cooperation that occurs here in our border communities.
While Congress fails to act over whether or not to authorize funds to combat the Zika virus, youth at the U.S.-Mexico border are informing the public about mosquito-borne illnesses and how to prevent them.
Last fall, teens from the local high school’s health career club in Nogales, Arizona, were trained by epidemiologists from Arizona’s Office of Border Health on epidemiological vigilance and mosquito surveillance. Organized by the Southeast Arizona Area Health Education Center, students and fellow community members launched a binational education campaign to fight illnesses including dengue, Zika and chikungunya.
Our current efforts in Ambos Nogales, as the sister cities in Arizona and Sonora are jointly known, illustrate how our citizens positively collaborate to improve health along the border.
The Southeast Arizona Area Health Education Center recruits and trains health providers in border counties in Southern Arizona. High school students that participate in our clubs learn about different health careers and are supported to pursue them.
Health professions students come to the center to increase their understanding of health practice in a rural border setting. We provide them with clinical placement opportunities and community service learning. When they leave, students are better informed about border health and better prepared to serve as health providers in our culturally diverse population.
Being part of a border city provides many opportunities for binational cooperation, such as participating in our Binational Health Council, where health providers and health agencies from the U.S. and Mexico meet regularly to plan, discuss and act upon priority health issues.
Members include hospital and health center directors and clinicians, highly trained professionals who work collaboratively to address health challenges, including prevention of infectious diseases such as dengue and Zika.
Our common history, culture and language is not divided by a border. We meet, plan and hold activities based on historical cooperation and trust.
We are teaching young people to be citizen epidemiologists and leaders. Our students have collected mosquito larvae to assess the presence of infectious disease.
They have gone to the Boys & Girls Club to educate younger children about the importance of protecting themselves against mosquitoes.
Our teens are demonstrating professionalism and binational cooperation that many politicians could well emulate.
The world has gone global, our future as a nation should embrace our ties with Mexico and Latin America.
Our people here at the border are connected. Our history connects us, our economy connects us, our air, water and environment connect us. Common sense should connect us too.
If politicians want to use the border as an example of what they are going to do when elected, how about a fresh perspective of unlimited cooperation and potential?
That perspective is shared and practiced by my colleagues, friends and youth here at the border.