UA Students Selected as Mexico City Visiting Scholars

March 24, 2016

Omar Contreras (left) with Celina I. Valencia, Gudelia Rangel and Eduardo Gonzalez-Fagoaga. (Photo courtesy of Celina I. Valencia)

After being selected by the Binational Border Health Thematic Network to serve as visiting scholars in Mexico, University of Arizona graduate students Celina I. Valencia and Omar A. Contreras helped develop best practices for public health policy for the country's southern border with Guatemala.

Now they are helping to inform an initiative involving Mexico and Guatemala that will address health priorities in the region.

Valencia and Contreras, students in the Public Health Policy and Management section at the UA Mel and Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health, utilized Mexico's northern border "Healthy Border 2020" as the framework for policy and practice to effect positive changes to health outcomes.

Contreras and Valencia collaborated with public health researchers from the Secretaria de Salud and El Colegio de la Frontera Norte to develop a strategic framework based on the health priorities for southern Mexico, which included epidemiological surveillance of chronic and infectious diseases and the identification of national and global partnerships for the advancement of positive health outcomes. 

"I am thankful to the Binational Border Health Thematic Network for the opportunity to apply research and international health policy to improve health outcomes among the migrant population in the Guatemala-Mexico border," Contreras said.

The network is an academic network comprised of experts from the 10 border states to improve public health conditions on the U.S.-Mexico border, funded by the National Council of Science and Technology of Mexico, known as CONACYT.

Also working in partnership with Dr. Cecilia Rosales, an assistant dean at the Mel and Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health, as well as others within the college, both helped envision approaches to help reduce health inequities in the region.

To serve as visiting scholars, students are recommended by members of the network; in this case, Rosales and the students were selected based on their skills and contributions to the public health arena. Valencia brings experience in academic research, scientific inquiry and quantitative analysis; Contreras' expertise in epidemiological methods, coalition building, stakeholder engagement and program implementation were well suited for the collaboration.

"We value our strong and continued partnership with Dr. Rosales, and the knowledge that both Celina and Omar brought to the team early in their doctorate careers helped catapult this important and critical work with the southern Mexico border and Guatemala," said Gudelia Rangel of the Secretaria de Salud in Mexico.

Valencia and Contreras will continue their binational collaboration with Mexican and Guatemalan government sectors and nonprofits to implement the strategic framework they developed, and to guide the development of "Healthy Border Sur 2020," which is an initiative between the two countries. The framework will be designed to address health priorities, specifically to reduce the burden of disease in the bordering region.

"The useful insights of the social, economic and structural forces shaping the lived experiences of migrants in the Guatemala/Mexico border region are critical building blocks for useful interventions to effect positive changes to health outcomes," Valencia said.

Additionally, Valencia and Contreras were introduced to various national and global data banks of Mexico and Guatemala for baseline assessments.