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Source: United States House of Representatives – Representative Xochitl Torres Small (NM-02)

As global health risks from the coronavirus grow, bill would boost infectious disease detection and investigation capabilities and update and strengthen the United States-Mexico Border Health Commission and Canada-United States Pan Border Public Health Preparedness Council

Washington, D.C.—Last week, Congresswoman Xochitl Torres Small (NM-02) introduced the bicameral Border Health Security Act of 2020, a new bill to strengthen multi-country cooperation to screen for infectious diseases and support vital public health initiatives in border communities that face unique cross-border challenges.

U.S. Representatives from Texas, Arizona, and California joined Congresswoman Xochitl Torres Small in leading a border specific response to the spread of the coronavirus disease and other infectious disease transmission. Senator Tom Udall (NM) has introduced companion legislation in the U.S. Senate.

The United States-Mexico Border Health Commission has worked over the past two decades to address major bi-national health issues that strain the public health systems along the border, including infectious diseases. This bill provides important recourses for the Commission and the Canada-United States Pan Border Public Health Preparedness Council to work with organizations along our borders to strengthen public health infrastructure. New funding under the bill will also invest in improvements for defense against bioterrorism, to warn of communicable disease outbreaks, and to address the many health disparities experienced in the Southern border region.

“This bill strikes at the heart of how closely tied border communities truly are. As we face how to confront the coronavirus, working together is more important than ever,” Torres Small said. “It’s why I voted last week to pass emergency supplemental funding for coronavirus prevention, preparedness, and response efforts. But, the work doesn’t stop there. This latest bill will improve partnerships with Canada and Mexico to address our unique health challenges and help make sure we are all safe and healthy.”

“People in New Mexico’s border communities deserve to feel confident that public health experts on the ground have the necessary resources to protect them and their families from public health risks and dangerous diseases. Especially at a time that communities across America are bracing for novel coronavirus, the availability of quality public health services and infrastructure should not be determined by your zip code,” Udall said. “We know that this epidemic threat will not be the last, and by catching warning signs of diseases early, we can better protect not only border communities but our nation as a whole. This bill builds on existing partnerships with Mexico and Canada to address the unique health challenges in border areas, we can help ensure that residents have access to high-quality public health services.”

“This bill will provide necessary funding for public health activities along the border, which widely impact population health, health preparedness, and improving health disparities,” said Secretary of the New Mexico Department of Health Kathyleen Kunkel.

The Border Health Security Act of 2020 will strengthen public health and national security by:

  • Authorizing $10.5 million per year for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in consultation with the Commission and Council to issue grants for States, Tribes and Tribal organizations, local governments, hospitals and nonprofit health organizations and others
  • Addressing the unique public health challenges along international borders and strengthening infectious disease preparedness along the nation’s northern and southern borders, including:
    • Updating and strengthening the roles of the United States-Mexico Border Health Commission and U.S. Canada Pan Border Health Council in recommending and implementing initiatives to solve border health issues. 
    • Designating a border health grant program to prioritize recommendations outlined by the Commission and Council to improve the health of residents along the U.S.-Mexico and U.S.-Canada borders. Grant funding would be used to address issues including infectious disease testing, monitoring, and surveillance; public health and public health infrastructure; health conditions with high prevalence; medical and health services research; health care infrastructure; health disparities; environmental health; epidemiology and health research; and workforce training and development.
    • Allowing grants to be used for Early Warning Infectious Disease Surveillance (EWIDS) and Border Infectious Disease Surveillance (BIDS) projects to develop and implement infectious disease surveillance plans, public health emergency plans, readiness assessments and preparedness plans, and alert networks; improve infrastructure and laboratories; support workforce training; and improve health information technology.

The legislation is supported by the New Mexico Department of Health, the National Rural Health Association (NRHA), the Southern Border Communities Coalition (SBCC), CAFeNM, and the American Public Health Association (APHA).