Health initiative targets diabetes mortality rate along U.S.-Mexico border

February 16, 2001

On March 5 the U.S.-Mexico border states in conjunction with federal governments from both countries will begin an extensive and joint diabetes prevalence study of border communities.

The Border Health Initiative will coordinate the California portion of the U.S.-Mexico Border Diabetes Project, which will cover San Diego and Imperial counties. The collaborative project involves The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Mexican ministry of health, the U.S. and Mexican border states as well as numerous non-governmental organizations.

"The border region sees the highest rate of mortality from diabetes for both countries and has a diabetes prevalence that is three times higher for Hispanics than non-Hispanics," said Dr. Oscar De La Riva, diabetes project coordinator of the Border Health Initiative. "And according to a variety of studies, it seems to be on the rise."

The five-year project will begin with the study to determine the prevalence of diabetes in the border region and to develop binational diabetes prevention and control programs based on the study's findings.


"This will also help us measure how much people know about diabetes and the access that they have to health services," said De La Riva.

Survey participants will fill out a questionnaire and have blood samples and body measurements taken. A total of 644 homes will be visited in San Diego and Imperial counties.

The group of randomly selected adults will receive a letter inviting them to participate in the survey. All information will remain confidential and used only for the study. Participants will receive a $10 honorarium as well as a list of health-care providers in their community.

The Border Health Initiative will train 32 local community health workers to conduct the survey through a partnership with Clinicas de Salud del Pueblo in Brawley and the University of California, San Diego.

An advisory group of 12 local health organizations has formed and will work parallel to the study with the idea of formalizing as a coalition to confront community issues dealing with diabetes.

According to the Pan American Health Organization, the number of people with diabetes is skyrocketing, affecting at least one in 20 people. PAHO estimates along the U.S.-Mexico border diabetes mortality represents 30 deaths per 100,000, almost twice the national figures of the United States. There are indications that nearly 10 percent of border residents are diabetic and over one-third of those are unaware they have the disease.

"Diabetes, the sixth leading cause of death in the Americas, is showing up in new and unlikely places," said PAHO Director Dr. George Alleyne.

Diabetes is the third-leading cause of death in Mexico and the seventh-leading cause of death in the United States.

A recent study conducted by the El Paso Diabetes Association found more than a fourth of the population cannot name one symptom of diabetes and does not know any risk factors of the disease. Many who have diabetes find out after a serious complication sets in.

Diabetes can be associated with heart disease, hypertension and cerebrovascular disease and failure to diagnose or properly treat it can lead to serious problems. Simple measures such as walking most days a week for 30 minutes and maintaining a healthy diet can help prevent or control diabetes and its complications.

More severe signs of the disease, (which affects 135 million people worldwide,) include blurred vision, sudden weight loss and unexplained weakness, fatigue or lethargy. Ignoring these signs often sets the stage for amputations, blindness, kidney failure, heart disease, stroke and death.

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