Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center El Paso is creating a new program to address health disparities in the border region. 

U.S. Rep. Veronica Escobar, D-El Paso, and school officials announced on Tuesday the federal government is awarding a $3 million grant to the university to form the program. The funds come from the Consolidated Appropriations Act that President Joe Biden signed into law on Dec. 30. 

The Border Health Outreach Initiative aims to use telehealth services to reach people in colonias, rural areas and other communities who have limited access to health care. Funds will also go to establishing a system for patient records as well as research on diabetes and cancer.

“Health care, from my perspective, is the key to opening up so many doors,” Escobar said. “It is the pathway not just to health, but wealth. Inadequate access or lack of access to health care is a significant impediment that prevents people from achieving everything they can, not just in their personal life, but as a way to build wealth and support for their family.” 

Cancer is the leading cause of death among Hispanic people in the United States. The disease affects more than 4% of the adult population in El Paso, according to 2020 data from Healthy Paso del Norte, an organization that tracks health trends in the region.  Nationally, lung and breast cancer are among the most common causes for cancer deaths.

Salvador Ramirez demonstrates the dosage of an insulin he takes with meals to manage his diabetes. (Corrie Boudreaux/El Paso Matters)

Diabetes, described as a silent killer because it can develop undiagnosed over time, disproportionately affects Hispanic and Latino people. Nearly 17% of El Paso adults have diabetes, which is higher than the state average. Existing, bilingual programs like The Diabetes Garage help people in El Paso manage the disease.

The university expects to receive the $3 million “within the next month or so,” according to TTUHSC El Paso officials.

University President Dr. Richard Lange, nutrition and diabetes specialist Dr. Deborah Clegg, and cancer specialist Dr. Rajkumar Lakshmanaswamy will lead the collaboration between doctors, nurses, researchers, medical students and community health workers known as promotores. 

“This $3 million grant, that Congresswoman Escobar shepherded to us, will change the health care landscape for tens of thousands of underserved families that are in our community,” Lakshmanaswamy said. “We know that recently diabetes, heart disease, and certain cancers are widespread in our community and our region. Early detection and monitoring are the ways in which these diseases can not only be controlled, but ultimately eliminated.”

Priscilla Totiyapungprasert is a health reporter at El Paso Matters and Report for America corp member. She previously covered food and environment at The Arizona Republic. You can follow her on social...