On July 19-20 SEAHEC hosted 20 students from University of Arizona’s Border Latino & American Indian Summer Exposure to Research (BLAISER.) program. The students arrived in Nogales on Wednesday, July 19th to participate in the local “Fight the Bite” campaign to stop the spread of mosquito borne illness in border communities.
SEAHEC has worked with community partners for the past year to address the spread of mosquito borne illness in southeast Arizona. “Fight the Bite,” is a U. S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention campaign that is implemented at the state and local level across the country. It utilizes a combination of mosquito surveillance, a method of systematically evaluating the mosquito population, collection of data on incidence of infections, and community health education. The combined strategy reduces infected mosquito populations and empowers residents to take steps to minimize exposure to Zika, Dengue, and other illnesses by raising awareness and depriving mosquitoes of habitat.
Public health education campaigns also provide unique learning experiences for future health professionals, enabling students to get hands on experience in rural communities that are most in need of health care providers. One member of the BLAISER group commented that “It just gave me a real experience as to what it is like working in border communities and that opened my eyes for the better.” SEAHEC’s Student Training Opportunities program connects students with rural communities and potential employers. Some of these students may have never considered practicing in a rural community before participating in SEAHEC programs.
On reflection, one student commented, “I didn’t know if I could see myself living or working in a border/rural community but after completing the internship with SEAHEC I would like to dedicate my time and energy to communities such as Tohono O’odham or Winchester Heights.”
SEAHEC’s border health internships and learning experiences provide students a way to contribute in a meaningful way while they learn about real life health care challenges. Our learning experiences also benefit local health care providers and the community, by increasing the chances that students will return to practice as health professionals.
Students met early on Wednesday at SEAHEC with Executive Director, Gail Emrick, who welcomed the students and provided an overview of border health issues. Next, students participated in an “Intro to Epidemiology” session led by AzDHS Border Infectious Disease Surveillance Officer Mariana Casal, MD, MPH. Dr. Casal also provided an overview of the Fight the Bite campaign, Arbovirus and training in mosquito surveillance survey techniques. While the students learned about the neighborhoods to be canvassed, they assembled informational kits to be distributed in the communities. Armed with new information and tools, the students broke into four groups to administer surveys and distribute health education materials. Students covered Ruby Road neighborhoods, between Nogales and Rio Rico, Az. They also canvassed customers at the Nogales Walmart, and the Loma Mariposa apartment complex in Nogales.
The following day the group crossed the border into Mexico where they met with met with Dra. Esther Solís Blanco, epidemiologist for La Secretaría de Salud Pública (SSP,) the public health department of the State of Sonora. Dra. Solís provided an overview of Sonora’s “Patio Limpio” program, a Mexican counterpart to Arizona’s “Fight the Bite” campaign. After meeting with Dra. Solís to Blanco, the students canvassed the “Buenos Aires” neighborhood in Nogales, Sonora.
At the close of the tour, students visited Unidad de Especialidades Médicas (UNEME) where they met with Dr. Carlos Borquez, who runs an innovative diabetes clinic in Nogales, Sonora. There the students learned about available health services in Sonora, Mexico.
At the close of each border health tour, students meet at SEAHEC to reflect on their learning and experience, and to share what they learned with each other, and SEAHEC staff. During the reflection session, we often learn that the experience has made a lasting impact:
“This was an incredible experience,” one student said. “…I did not expect to learn so much… I am very thankful, and this will stay with me as I apply to medical school and forward.”