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KTSM: Escobar leads effort to bolster infectious disease monitoring, support border health initiatives

By Erin Coulehan

Border state lawmakers are working together to pass legislation that would expand and enhance public health initiatives.

On Monday, U.S. Rep. Veronica Escobar (D-Texas) led legislators in introducing H.R. 4812 — the Border Health Security Act — that would strengthen multi-country efforts to screen for infectious diseases, while also providing support for crucial public health initiatives in border communities such as El Paso. 

“The COVID-19 pandemic has deeply impacted the economic vibrancy of the U.S.-Mexico border region and has exposed the unique public health challenges binational communities face,” Escobar said. “International collaboration has never been more important to fight this deadly virus and mitigate future infectious diseases. I am proud to introduce the Border Health Security Act to promote critical collaboration with our Mexican and Canadian neighbors and build on my efforts to protect and improve the health of El Pasoans.”

The Border Health and Security Act is a bicameral and bipartisan piece of legislation co-sponsored by Reps. Juan Vargas (D-CA), Raul M. Grijalva (D-AZ), Ann Kirkpatrick (D-AZ), Tony Gonzales (R-Texas), Henry Cuellar (D-Texas), Vicente Gonzalez (D-Texas) and Filemon Vela (D-Texas).

Lawmakers say the pandemic has exposed gaps in service that are paramount to healthy communities.

“Over this past year, the coronavirus pandemic has highlighted the public health challenges and vulnerabilities that come from the close relationship with our neighboring countries,” Gonzales said. “This bipartisan legislation will improve coordination with Canada and Mexico to solve border health issues and address the spread of infectious diseases, creating healthier communities across our district.”

Companion legislation was introduced in the U.S. Senate by Sens. Ben Ray Lujan (D-NM) and Martin Heinrich (D-NM).

“While COVID-19 cases around the globe continue to increase, the United States must work with Mexico and Canada to address emerging public health threats to keep our border communities safe and protected. Strengthening our coordination with Mexico and Canada will help address the unique challenges that border communities experience,” said Luján. “This bicameral bill will boost our preparedness for future public health threats and help save lives across the United States.”

Moreover, the Border Health Security Act is endorsed by the National Rural Health Association for its strategy to improve health across the Borderland, as well as other areas of the country.

“Enacting a comprehensive health care strategy is critical to ensure the diverse, rural population on the border is able to combat emerging disease threats such as COVID-19, the West Nile virus and other non-communicable diseases such as diabetes and obesity,” said Alan Morgan, chief executive officer of the National Rural Health Association.

“The Border Health Security Act will help address these emerging threats by requiring members of the United States Mexico Border Health Commission to cooperate with the Canada-United States Pan-Border Health Preparedness Council to implement proven solutions and by allowing border health grants to be used to address long-standing epidemics plaguing this population,” Morgan said.

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