EL PASO, TX, October 2022 – In an effort to provide more than just basic emergency care to migrants and asylum seekers at the border, the Border Health Program (BHP) launched this month. BHP is a new program led by Doctors of the World USA (DotW) in partnership with Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center El Paso (TTUHSC El Paso), and local organizations operating border shelters. BHP offers migrants at the border transitional medical care, uses data to advocate for public policies that will better address their health needs and reduce burdens on local health systems, and provides medical students with learning opportunities that will serve as the foundation for research and curriculum development focused on migrant health.
In recent years, a growing number of migrants and asylum-seekers have been crossing the US-Mexico border. According to Customs and Border Protection (CBP), 234,088 migrants crossed in April 2022, topping March’s 22-year high of 221,444. Lamentably, most shelters and CBP facilities lack sufficient accommodations, staffing or procedures to thoroughly assess migrants’ health needs, resulting in dangerous medical oversights.
Based on DotW’s exploratory missions to the US-Mexico border, and supported by findings from external reports, there is a dire need for both medical care AND rational public policy regarding access to healthcare for populations in transit at the border, particularly as numbers of asylum seekers entering the US continues to increase. Issues that DotW and other BHP staff encounter include migrants with chronic conditions (i.e. diabetes, asthma, seizures, and high blood pressure) having their prescription medications confiscated by CBP; many migrants who survive dangerous desert crossings suffering from dehydration and other heat related health risks; border wall injuries; and women suffering sexual violence en route to the US, along with 5% of men and 50% of gay and transgender individuals. Additionally, the number of women migrating to the US and crossing the southern border is growing: women represented an estimated 35% of migrants in 2019, up from 14% in 2012.
Each partner’s role within BHP is distinct and leverages their respective areas of expertise. As a global expert on migrant and refugee health, DotW serves as the institutional link between border shelters and TTUHSC El Paso, focusing on building shelters’ capacity, providing administrative and financial support, and conducting evidence- based advocacy to promote sound public health policy and best practices. TTUHSC El Paso provides the workforce with faculty, residents, and medical students staffing the clinic. And our local partners provide the primary clinical sites and, when necessary, overflow sites.
When our first patient, Luis, arrived in El Paso, TX he had to make a choice: receive medical treatment for severe pneumonia but remain in U.S. custody, or be released to travel freely within the U.S. but risk severe health complications, including death, from his pneumonia. What choice did he really have?
Unfortunately for Luis, this was not the first impossible choice he’s had to make. When his beloved wife was diagnosed with uterine cancer, he had to find a job that could pay enough to cover the cost of a life-saving hysterectomy. In his country, Venezuela, such a job did not exist. So, he had to make a choice: remain by his sick wife’s side or leave her (and his country) to find a job opportunity in the U.S.
These mega trends have far-reaching consequences. They affect economic development, employment, income distribution, poverty and social protections. Women represent half of the world’s population and will play a vital part in building a better, more sustainable and equitable world. Doctors of the World will continue its fight for women’s rights, by advocating for equity and continuing its many programs that focus on supporting women, so that they can continue the important work that they do for our world. For those that would like to know more about World Population Day and the 2022 status of women’s rights, click on the link to see the United Nations publication: https://www.unfpa.org/data/world-population-dashboard