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Blum Center aspires to create global citizens who fight Latin American poverty, healthy issues

Panelists discuss the thought process behind UCLA’s Blum Center on Poverty and Health in Latin America at an inaugural event held on Wednesday.


May 2, 2013 1:13 a.m.

Raul, an 11-year-old boy from Honduras, took care of his five siblings, who had chronic malnutrition and asthma.

His parents worked 12-hour shifts to earn enough money to make ends meet.

A speaker at Wednesday’s UCLA Blum Center Inaugural Spring Symposium on Poverty and Health in Latin America used the boy’s story to emphasize the need to address the complex issues of poverty and health care in Latin America.

The newly established Blum Center will focus on reducing poverty in Latin America and improving health outcomes by increasing interdisciplinary dialogue through research, policy development and education, said Dr. Michael Rodriguez, director of the Blum Center and professor at the UCLA David Geffen School of Medicine, during the opening remarks.

The center will also conduct research to get further insight on how poverty and related social factors cause and contribute to health inequalities experienced by Latin Americans abroad and in Los Angeles, Rodriguez said.

The center is funded by a $1 million donation from Richard Blum, a University of California regent.

The donation will be used for the center’s development and to help support education and training programs for faculty and students, Rodriguez said in an interview.

Blum was unable to attend the inaugural symposium.

He said in a statement read out during the symposium that he hopes the center will help inspire students to become global citizens and assist them in understanding that the effort to reduce poverty around  the world is a complicated, but worthwhile endeavor.

The center fully funds a yearlong general education cluster called “Poverty and Health in Latin America,” which started this academic year and was offered to both first- and second-year students.

This year, the center will also offer its Summer Intern Scholar Program, which will be based in UCLA and two Latin American countries.

Speakers at the center’s Spring Symposium stressed the importance of identifying and understanding how social and environmental factors affect the health of Latin American citizens.

“Latin America has a good public health track record,” said Dr. Jaime Sepulveda, the executive director of UC San Francisco Global Health Sciences and keynote speaker. “There are many examples of large-scale public health advancements.”

Mesoamerica, a region of Latin America that includes central Mexico and Central America, was one of the first regions in the world to eliminate smallpox and polio, he said.

The rate of Latin Americans living in extreme poverty, which roughly translates to living on less than two dollars a day, has steadily dropped to 12.5 percent in 2010, according to a report issued from the United Nations in 2011.

However, many of the people living in extreme poverty can still be underserved by the health care system, Sepulveda said.

Erin Standen, a first-year psychobiology student who will intern for the Blum Center this summer, said she was inspired by the symposium and is excited about the new center and its focus on undergraduate education.

Standen, who is also in the cluster program, said she really enjoys the cluster, as it has made her more aware of many issues facing Latin America.

“It has inspired me to choose to study abroad in Latin America because I feel well-versed in this region now,” she said.

Rodriguez said Angelenos should be particularly concerned about Latin America because of its close historical, economic and cultural ties with Los Angeles and the large Latin American community in the region.

“Los Angeles is often considered the second largest city in Latin America” he said.

“It is in our benefit to work with leaders in this area and in this region.”

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