Representatives of the University of Kansas Medical Center, along with Mexican government officials, have entered into a partnership in the hopes of reducing health disparities in the Hispanic and Latino communities of southwest Kansas.
Representatives from the Mexican Consulate of Kansas City, Mo., and Juntos, a program of KUMC's Department of Preventive Medicine and Public Health, joined together to present their grassroots initiative to a crowd of community stakeholders during a presentation Monday at Garden City Community College.
The initiative -- "Ventanilla de Salud Movil," which is Spanish for Health Mobile Window -- will be operated with the support of the KU Juntos center and is designed to improve the physical and mental health of the "underserved Hispanic population" in much of southwest Kansas.
"Every time I get here, I am surprised by the diversity of this community," Dr. Paula Cupertino, a KUMC assistant professor and director of the Juntos Center for Advancing Latino Health, told Monday's crowd. "Today is a great day for creating partnerships and alliances. Today is a great day when we've come together for a better world. ... As we sign this memorandum of understanding, we sign a growing responsibility to promoting health in this corner of the state."
Jacob Prado, a Mexican consul who spoke to the crowd, said the project includes the participation of two Promotoras de Salud, or health promotion, groups in both Liberal and Garden City to provide families in their communities with bilingual and bicultural education on health care and preventive medical services. The project also includes health fairs hosted during consult visits to the area, according to Prado.
Prado said southwest Kansas is the 51st of such health initiatives spearheaded by the Mexican consulate -- the first was in 2002 with a pilot program in San Diego -- and the first of its kind in its mobility. The various health outreach programs, including one in the greater Kansas City area, have touched more than 900,000 individuals over the years, Prado added.
"As a result, we've reached 10,000 in Kansas, Missouri and Oklahoma. ... This additional effort is to reach Garden City, Dodge City, Liberal, Great Bend and Ulysses," the Mexican consul said, adding that the presence of new and recent Mexican immigrants has "dramatically increased, as well as their contributions to this region."
Cupertino, the director of the Juntos Center, said in a separate interview that prevention services and education are integral parts of the equation to reducing the prevalence of tuberculosis, HIV/AIDS, cardiovascular diseases, tobacco and nicotine dependence, and more. In addition, cancer education and screening are also goals.
"Many in the community are very recent immigrants," she said in a separate interview. "It's hard to navigate the health system when there are language, education and other barriers."
The director of the Juntos Center also told Monday's crowd that at least 10 trips to return to southwest Kansas communities are planned, with a goal of reaching out to at least 800 residents.
In Finney County, nearly 47 percent of residents identify themselves as of Hispanic or Latino origin, according to the latest census figures. Across the state, the figure is about 10.5 percent, or just more than 300,000 residents.
Garden City Mayor John Doll attended Monday's presentation to speak in support of the initiative.
"In the words of (Mohandas) Gandhi, you must be the change you wish to see in the world. This is a great step forward," Doll said. "It's a God-given right to have access to health care ... though it may take baby steps to achieve that."
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