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Latino Health Summit held at UT Health Science Center at San Antonio

Nearly 100 leaders convened Aug. 14 at The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio for a major Texas Latino Health Summit.

Health Science Center President Francisco G. Cigarroa, M.D., joined by the state's health commissioner, the executive director of the Texas League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) and the chair of the state's Health Diversities Task Force, called for partnership, research, planning and education to improve Latino health. LULAC and other community organizations presented the summit with aid from the Texas Department of Health's Office of Minority Health and Office of Border Health.

Dr. Cigarroa said the university has begun educating more physicians for South Texas through the Regional Academic Health Center (RAHC). The RAHC Medical Education Division, operated by the Health Science Center, will train 24 third- and 24 fourth-year medical students a year in the predominantly Latino Rio Grande Valley and will coordinate residency opportunities for young physicians there.

"We look forward to training home-grown health professionals in this region, and have recruited a large number of dedicated and talented physicians to serve as role models," Dr. Cigarroa said. "When we opened the RAHC a month ago, we significantly increased the entire national number of Hispanic Americans serving as medical school faculty. In fact, we nearly doubled the national number. This is by far the largest concentration of Mexican-American faculty physicians in any one university in the country. We promise to achieve our goal of training a generation of health care professionals who reflect the population of our state."

Eduardo Sanchez, M.D., M.P.H., state health commissioner and a 1991 graduate of the Health Science Center's family practice residency program, said a Latino health summit is needed because Texas, the second-largest U.S. state, also has the second-largest Hispanic population. "Let me share with you some of what I know to be true about the health of Hispanics in Texas," he said. "Seventy-two percent of all tuberculosis cases reported in 1998 were in Hispanic- or African-American men and women. Almost 29 percent of Hispanic women did not receive prenatal care in the first trimester of their pregnancy. Deaths due to diabetes among Hispanics are nearly triple the rate for whites. Clearly we have some work to do."

Adela Valdez, M.D., chair of the Health Diversities Task Force, said the panel was established last year to eliminate health and health access disparities in Texas. It is administratively a part of the Texas Department of Health. The task force will obtain information from each region of Texas, assess problems and priorities, and inventory available resources.

She said 21.4 percent of Texans were without health insurance in 2000. While 12.2 percent of white Texans lacked health insurance, 21.2 percent of African Americans and 36.7 percent of Hispanics lacked health insurance. "Basically there is a lot of work to be done," Dr. Valdez agreed. "We have to take it down to the community level."

Frank Ramos, Ph.D., executive director of the Texas LULAC, said the 73-year-old organization's involvement in the health summit is highly significant. "The community should be at the table at the critical juncture when decisions are being made, when resources are allocated and when strategies are formed and implemented," Dr. Ramos said. "There is an advantage to having community organizations involved."

"We come together today to champion a single cause for the Latino community: universal access to health care," Dr. Cigarroa noted. "If we work together in our respective roles to make universal access to health care for Latinos a priority, then we will not only have a healthier Hispanic population, we will continue to bring about other positive social and economic changes for Hispanic Americans."

Contact: Will Sansom or Aileen Salinas