US, Mexico Working to Avert Mass Health Crisis at Border
Amid the endless reporting about the situation at the US-Mexico border, the potential for a growing health crisis remains largely unreported.
The large number of people in holding at the border greatly increases the odds that a public health crisis could happen at any moment. But thanks to joint efforts by San Diego and Mexico, many of the thousands-strong migrant caravans are receiving all kinds of health care at the border.
San Diego County public health officer Dr. Wilma Wooten told the San Diego Tribune that the health services being provided by both the US and Mexico are extremely important because both serve to spot early symptoms of disease that could lead to an outbreak. Quarantine operations are fully in force to separate people who are infected. As of Dec. 3, public health workers on both sides had done over 5,000 medical consultations to migrants in both Tijuana and Mexicali.
Migrants are receiving flu vaccines, tetanus vaccines, prenatal care and dental work; you name it, it is being done. A growing number of health services are being added to deal with the influx, checkups and medication, and even minor surgeries are being performed. Mobile hospitals have been added on both sides of the border to deal with the onslaught.
The Mexican government has reported 3,200 respiratory ailments (many colds and coughs), four positive HIV results and two syphilis positive results; they are also caring for approximately 50 pregnant women.
There has been a chicken pox outbreak and rumors of a tuberculosis outbreak. The Children’s Physicians Medical Group in San Diego sent 70 doses of chicken pox vaccine to Mexico to inoculate children to lower the risk of their becoming infected. The pediatric group is the largest practice in the region, and it is relatively easy for them to provide the necessary vaccines to help with public safety. The doctors say that it doesn’t take much for someone to cross the border and then infect the US population, so immunizing kids while they’re still in Mexico actually helps American kids.
Furthermore, San Diego County’s public health department sent 600 doses of hepatitis A vaccine as well, after receiving a plea from the Baja health department.
Countries Working Together
The two public health departments, Tijuana and San Diego, actually have a history of cross-border collaboration. For many years the two groups have met quarterly to exchange information. There is a formal protocol in place that governs communications and coordination should an outbreak ever occur. In general, the countries are most concerned about types of influenza, smallpox, polio, Ebola, cholera, plague and SARS. Modern illnesses such as Zika and West Nile viruses, tuberculosis, rabies, chikungunya and meningococcal diseases are also on the list.
The two countries work well together and San Diego feels confident that they would quickly know about any threatening outbreak among the caravan population. If any type of outbreak were to occur, the San Diego County public health officials would then alert the entire state via the California Health Alert Network. That would create heightened vigilance, such as screening of people who have recently traveled across the border.
Better Health Care
Routine childhood vaccines are common in Central America, so health officials were not too concerned in those cases. However, many migrants in Mexican shelters have received flu shots.
The health care these people are receiving at the border is far better than what they receive at home. One young mother commented that it felt very nice to get the kind of medical attention she is getting. Another man received dental treatment and loved the feeling of his clean teeth; he could not afford a dentist where he came from and had not seen one in 10 years.
With all the discussion about borders and walls, health officials on both sides of the fence remind everyone that infectious disease knows no borders.