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Mexican Border Violence May Worsen TB Crisis

Tuberculosis is a growing problem around the world, especially in Mexico and other Central American countries. Worldwide, TB kills 5000 people every day. Texas health officials want to help, but Mexico’s drug violence is making it hard for them. Nathan Bernier reports from Austin.



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About a month ago — state health employees were told to stay out of Mexico, because of the ongoing drug cartel war that has claimed thousands of lives since last year. That posed a problem for people trying to fight tuberculosis along the border.

“Texas in general has about twice the national average of TB. And our region has about twice the average of Texas.”

Doctor Brian Smith is in charge of the Department of State Health Services region that stretches from Brownsville to Corpus Christie to Laredo. Since the mid-90s, they’ve been trying to tackle high TB rates along the border by offering treatment to people on the Mexican side. Now those services are being limited by the travel ban.

“If we don’t maintain strong relationships with the Mexican TB program, then you may have more drop-ins for health care on this side, with the intendent exposures to other family members on this side.”

Smith says they’ve been trying to get around cross border travel restrictions. For example, they’re still trying to convince U.S. Customs and Border Patrol to allow their Mexican employees to bring lab samples into the U.S. Cynthia Tafolla runs a bi-national TB treatment project out of Brownsville and McAllen.

“The patients as well, they’re getting desperate. As a parent myself, I think that some of these parents are thinking, well, obviously if the treatment’s over on the U.S. side, then we’re going to find a way to get our child treated.”

Texas so far has the tightest restrictions on travel to Mexico by state health workers. California has restricted commutes to daylight hours. Arizona and New Mexico do not have any official bans in effect. 

I’m Nathan Bernier in Austin