A weekly public health and leadership training is attempting to fight chronic diseases in low income neighborhoods.
The workshops are hosted by Project Concern International (PCI), an organization with programs globally and locally in San Diego.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that chronic diseases in the United States “are responsible for 7 of 10 deaths each year”.
PCI says that Latina women in low income neighborhoods are at even greater risk.
Connie Lafuente is the manager of PCI’s Project ALCANCE in San Diego.
“In those four specific areas: City Heights, Sherman Heights, Logan Heights, and National City,” said Lafuente, “the mortality rates for the Latina women are higher than anywhere in the county.”
Latinas in these neighborhoods are estimated to be “1.5 times more likely to die from chronic disease than the general population”, according to PCI.
Lafuente says this could be due to various barriers.
“It could be because of the poverty level, they don’t have access to care or services, could be that they’re undocumented and they’re afraid to go to the clinic,” she said.
A cultural practice of only visiting a doctor when one is ill, caring for one’s family before caring for oneself, and the upfront costs of visiting a health center are additional barriers Lafuente suggests.
To reduce this disparity the CDC funded PCI’s three year program that’s based on health models practiced more in rural regions and developing countries.
The community health worker model identifies leaders in a community and trains them with public health information. The community health worker then becomes an advocate and educates others to live healthier.
Similarly, the promotora model, popularized in Mexico and Latin America, historically trains women to volunteer their time promoting healthy habits and practices.
Perla Ledesma recently completed the training and is now employed by PCI as an outreach worker.
“When you are a promotora you promote health, good habits, exercise, and promote different programs to help you be healthy,” said Ledesma.
The free trainings are targeting Latinas from low income neighborhoods, but are open to everyone.
“I think the influence women have is big,” Lafuente said. “Women are like the nucleus of the family, so if we teach women how to have healthier habits or how to exercise or good nutrition they will serve as examples to their family members.”
In Ledesma’s case, the change started with her.
“I learned that we can prevent disease if we start with healthy changes,” she said. “I changed my habits. I drink a lot of water instead of soda, I reduced the amount of bread with sugar, like donuts or cakes. This kind of food can damage your body.”
As a leadership program the training also encourages career development.
“When they come, they find a support system from each other,” Lafuente said. “Many of them have aspirations or goals for the future, but because they had children or they have family, they put that aside. This encourages them again, gives them that platform to continue on.”
Ledesma now works in the City Heights neighborhood. She says that she meets many people with heart problems and diabetes and they don’t know how to manage their conditions.
Knowing how to prevent chronic disease is “like gold in your hands,” said Ledesma.
“They don’t know and sometimes when you share this important thing, it makes you feel so good when you do something good for someone else,” she said.
Project Concern International’s community health worker and promotora leadership academy are held weekly. A new program begins in September.
For more information contact Sandra Martínez at (619) 888-3092.