Program designed to educate farm workers about pesticide exposure wins statewide award from rural health group

Thursday, January 14, 2010

A collaborative effort by several entities at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Tyler has received a Communities that Care Award from the Texas Rural Health Association.

“El Terror Invisible: Preventing Exposure to Agricultural Chemicals for Promotores” is designed to alert farm workers to the dangers of pesticides.

It is a four-hour, bilingual workshop for “promotores” – lay health educators who live in rural communities and know farm workers and their families, especially migrant workers.

“El Terror Invisible,” or “The Invisible Terror” in Spanish, refers to harmful agricultural chemicals that are not always visible or readily apparent to the farm worker.

The workshop describes the dangers of these chemicals using materials developed by Thomas Arcury, Ph.D., a professor of family and community medicine at Wake Forest University School of Medicine in Winston Salem, North Carolina.

The workshop’s goal is to instruct these lay health educators about the risks of exposure to pesticides and chemicals, the symptoms of exposure, and the recommended treatment for these symptoms.

The lay health educators in turn teach farm workers about these issues.

The workshop is a collaboration of the Southwest Center for Pediatric Environmental Health (SWCPEH); the Southwest Center for Agricultural Health, Injury Prevention, and Education; and Lake Country Area Health Education Center – all located at UTHSCT – and the National Center for Farmworker Health in Buda, Texas.

Funding for the workshops has been provided by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and SWCPEH.

“The promotores, or health educators, are trusted members of their communities,” said Amanda Wickman, outreach education coordinator for the Southwest Ag Center.

Wickman helped develop the program along with Miguel Gaona, the health careers promotions coordinator for Lake Country AHEC and lead instructor of the workshops.

Gaona and Wickman are bilingual, and their ability to deliver the program in Spanish has been instrumental to its success.

Gaona said most promotores have worked in the fields and know the conditions the workers face.

“This is also an issue of children’s health, because they work alongside their parents in the fields. Parents also take pesticides home with them on their clothes,” said Larry Lowry, Ph.D., coordinator and co-principal investigator for SWCPEH.

In addition, Debra Cherry, MD, medical director of SWCPEH, has been involved with the program.

Mickey Slimp, Ed.D., executive director of the Northeast Texas Consortium, also located on the UTHSCT campus, nominated the workshop for the Communities that Care Award.

For 60 years, The University of Texas Health Science Center at Tyler has provided excellent patient care and cutting-edge treatments, specializing in pulmonary disease, cancer, heart disease, primary care, and the disciplines that support them. With an operating budget of more than $125 million and biomedical research funding that exceeds $10 million annually, UTHSCT has a major economic impact on East Texas. Its two medical residency programs – in family medicine and occupational medicine – provide doctors for many communities in East Texas and beyond. For more information, visit www.uthct.edu.

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