Photo: Health of Residents in Colonias Along Texas-Mexico Border Worry Doctors
In the colonias along the Texas-Mexico border, researching have reported that the health of the people in these areas is often far worse than those outside, showing a link between poverty and health.
Within the 350 Texas colonias, almost 45,000 residents have been classified as being of the “highest health risk” by the state. This means these people have “no running water, no wastewater treatment, no paved roads or solid waste disposal. Water- and mosquito-borne illnesses are rampant, the result of poor drainage, pooling sewage and water contaminated by leaking septic tanks. Burning garbage, cockroaches, vermin and mold lead to high rates of asthma, rashes and lice infestations,” wrote the New York Times.
Poor diet often linked to poverty only adds to the health problems of colonia residents, including diabetes, dental issues, and obesity. For those in colonias, health insurance and money are difficult to come by so regular check-ups are almost nonexistent.
Dr. Sarojini Bose, a pediatrician working with a number of hospitals in the Rio Grande Valley, said as many as three-fifths of the children he sees are very sick.
“To see this in the United States, the most powerful country is the world, is heartbreaking,” Dr. Bose said.
In these areas, where windows and doors are left open, there is a substantial increase in the number of cases of Dengue fever and Lyme disease, which are carried by mosquitoes and ticks.
The rate of tuberculosis is twice that of the state average. Public health departments have reported that the rates of cholera, hepatitis A, salmonellosis and dysentery in the colonias that far exceed the state average. And leprosy (aka Hansen’s disease), almost wiped out in the rest of the country, is still prevalent in the colonias.
Doctors and border health officials have been working to improve the conditions in the area, and the number of residents considered to be living in the most terrible conditions have decreased by 17,000 according to the state’s Colonia Initiatives Program.
But despite the progress, there are still a number of health care challenges to overcome.
The South Texas regional director for the Department of State Health Services, Dr. Brian Smith said, “People just delay care, or else they go without it.”
Some meet the criteria to receive Medicaid and Medicare, but many between the ages of 19 and 64 “fall through the cracks.” And even for those that do qualify for health care assistance, many do not take advantage of the programs due to lack of understanding of qualifications or registration, or simply for the fear of using government assistance because many are undocumented immigrants.
However, according to a report from the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas, roughly 64 percent of those living in the colonias are U.S. citizens, and 85 percent of those under 18 were born in the U.S.
But for those that came to America in search of a better education for their families, those like Laura – a 23-year-old mother of five whose husband abandoned her – the fear of being deported is outweighed by the possibility of a better future for her children.
“I’m willing to live like this,” Laura told the Times. “For them.”