Sunday, October 22

Epidemic of health


Wednesday, April 29, 1998

Epidemic of health

PEOPLE: Two campus organizations reach across cultural barriers,
providing free medical screenings and disease education to
impoverished groups

By Trina Enriquez

Daily Bruin Contributor

Some prevent heart attacks, and others travel to Tijuana to take
care of children.

Among a bevy of campus organizations are groups of student
health volunteers dedicated to aiding underserved members of the
community.

Yet contrary to what names like the Latino Student Health
Project (LSHP) and Pilipinos for Community Health might suggest,
volunteers emphasize their commitment to providing primary care and
education for the general public as well as their target
population.

"You don’t have to be the ethnicity of the volunteer
organization to join," said Rana Azimi, co-director of LSHP.

Each organization, however, does focus on a segment of the
population at the greatest risk for such health concerns as
hypertension and teen pregnancy.

On a typical day at the LSHP free clinic in Tijuana, several
members struggle to maintain order while children clamber over the
makeshift waiting area, eagerly awaiting the fistful of candy at
the end of their checkup. In the small, one-room chapel that serves
as the clinic’s center site, mothers soothe crying babies and
apprehensive 5-year-olds eye a tape measure stuck to the wall with
Bubble Yum. After submitting to height measures, the young patients
are allowed their fistfuls of sweets. With mad impatience, some
tear in vain at the foil wrapping with their teeth, sometimes
opting to chew the pint-size chocolate as is.

LSHP volunteers set up a free primary-care clinic in Tijuana
every month, along with hypertension screenings at La Plazita on
Olvera Street. They also conduct visits oriented toward health
education for those in convalescent and group homes.

The free clinic, however, plays the major role in LSHP’s service
by providing patients with basic health care and students with a
glimpse of the role of physician.

"People ask us why we don’t just serve East L.A. Latinos instead
of driving all the way to (Tijuana)," Azimi said. "But so many
other organizations serve in downtown L.A., whereas we are the only
ones who go to (Tijuana).

"Who’s going to serve them down there if we don’t?" she
asked.

Every month, UCLA volunteers join student health organizations
from other southern California universities in operating the clinic
under the supervision of a doctor from San Diego.

Typically, the clinic is set up in a one-room chapel or another
such site donated for the day. Various stations are allotted for
taking vital signs, conducting sugar, urine and teen pregnancy
tests, diagnosing complaints, and running a lab and pharmacy. This
is done using equipment and supplies donated by various
hospitals.

"People find out about us by word of mouth," said Erica
Hernandez, the Medical Project of California chairperson who
organizes the free clinic. "They’ll contact us about using their
sites or donating supplies."

A doctor supervises the operation, but otherwise the clinic is
completely student-run. Less stringent health regulations in Mexico
allow volunteers to diagnose patients, though the doctor must
approve their diagnoses before medication may be prescribed.
Volunteers gain unparalleled hands-on experience working with
patients, the majority of whom are children.

"The patients aren’t guinea pigs," said Joe Alanis, former LSHP
director and longtime member. "We don’t diagnose major diseases and
most cases aren’t life-threatening."

Should such a case arise, though, patients are immediately
referred to a primary-care clinic in Tijuana. However, "doctors
down the street won’t see (children) unless they’re really sick,"
said Hernandez. "That’s the way it is."

Lack of regular health care fuels the desire to provide such
services as the Tijuana clinic or hypertension screenings in
downtown Los Angeles, where large numbers of a given organization’s
target population reside.

Like LSHP, Pilipinos for Community Health (PCH) is dedicated to
service while informing patients of available options. Oftentimes,
language and culture barriers prevent people from learning about
what is open to them.

With the aid of community-based organizations such as Asian
Pacific Health Care Venture, PCH members go out to various sites,
educating people about HIV/AIDS, teen pregnancy and tuberculosis.
Volunteers also run bone marrow drives with the assistance of
Miracle Marrow Matches, another community health organization.

Like other student health groups, PCH started out as a
hypertension project, setting up strategic stations outside of
bakeries and restaurants frequented by Pilipino customers in
downtown Los Angeles.

"(Restaurants and bakeries) are high cholesterol sellers
catering to elderly customers with high salt intakes," explained
Joe Balabis, PCH co-director of operations. PCH also set up
screenings at the Little Tokyo Health Fair.

Last year, volunteers happened to screen an elderly Japanese
woman with extremely high blood pressure. "We brought in the
physician, who later told us, ‘It’s lucky you found it now, because
this person is in danger of getting a heart attack very soon,"
Balabis said. "So we possibly prevented a heart attack."

Both PCH and LSHP plan to expand their programs. Also,
collaboration with other student health organizations will help
them serve underserved members of every ethnicity.

"In order to be good physicians, we need to understand cultural
issues," said David Vela, external coordinator of Chicanos for
Community Medicine.

Vela envisions "a cross-cultural unit working together" in order
to bring basic health care and education to the community.

Ultimately, the goals of each campus health organization
transcend the bounds of a given ethnicity to reach out to anyone
who may benefit from the services which these student health groups
provide.

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