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UNT Health Science Center focuses on Hispanic health

By Bill Zeeble, KERA 90.1 reporter

Dallas, TX – [Ambience: Elba Rosario, speaking Spanish]

Bill Zeeble, KERA 90.1 reporter: Elba Rosario is a volunteer 'promotora' - promoter or teacher, in the program 'Salud para su Corazon' - 'Health for your Heart. Talking to two sisters who heard about the program at Dallas' downtown Our Lady of Guadalupe Church, she says her effort's not easy.

Elba Rosario, volunteer promotora: But if we want a better community, a healthy community, we work hard for that. They understand it's important to get educated in the way they eat and way they have to change.

Zeeble: The grassroots effort, run out of the University of North Texas Health Science Center and Institute for Hispanic Health, is a proven program that works because it reaches across language and cultural barriers. Santas Marcos, sitting with her sister, says her relatives suffer from heart disease and diabetes. Those are two leading killers especially among Latinos. So she wanted to learn how to live a long life and prepare healthier meals for her family. The translator is Lenor Aguiar.

Santas Marcos (through translator Lenor Aguiar): She says she won't go to another place when they don't speak Spanish because she won't understand. She speaks no English at all. This is easiest way to learn.

Zeeble: Marcos came here 23 years ago from Zacatecas, a small central Mexican community. Doctor Nelly Salgado de Snyder, with Mexico's National Institute of Public Health and an adjunct professor at UNT's Institute for Hispanic Health, says Marcos is fairly typical of Hispanics who need preventive health care or just basic information, but don't often pursue it. Language isn't always the reason. Sometimes, for example, she says, Mexican men, raised in a Machismo culture, won't seek medical help because they're quote, "tough." She remembers one "tough"patient who had a serious, though treatable, skin condition that he ignored for years.

Doctor Nelly Salgado de Snyder, Director, Community Health, Mexico National Institute of Public Health: When I saw him, he couldn't do anything. He was completely on disability; arms and hands ... destroyed the tissue. He didn't have the muscular strength or anything. It was terrible.

Zeeble: The Institute for Hispanic Health will deal with such cultural barriers to good health, and create a curriculum for students at UNT's Public Health school. The growing number of Hispanics calls for a change in public health education, according to Dr. Fernando Trevino, Dean of UNT's School of Public Health.

Doctor Fernando Trevino, Dean, School of Public Health, University North Texas Health Science Center, Fort Worth: We're training too few leaders that know these communities and can affect needed change in these communities.

Zeeble: So Trevino, who will also direct the Institute for Hispanic Health, put together what he says is the most culturally diverse faculty of any public health school in the nation outside of Puerto Rico. He sees his small, multilingual staff of 30 teaching an international student body that will then largely serve Spanish speakers in Texas and elsewhere.

Trevino: Schools of Public Health rank second from bottom of all the health professional schools, in terms of producing Hispanic professionals. Only nursing has had fewer Hispanics.

Zeeble: To build the Institute's programs, Trevino recently applied for a large grant designed to improve patient provider communication for Latinos. Tomorrow, he'll announce the school is one of ten national recipients of the major foundation grant. For KERA 90.1, I'm Bill Zeeble.

To contact Bill Zeeble, please send emails to bzeeble@kera.org.