Udall, Heinrich Introduce Bill to Improve Health of Border Communities, Strengthen National Security

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senators Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich announced they have introduced a bill to improve the health and economies of border communities and strengthen national security. The Border Health Security Act of 2015 would strengthen binational collaboration to address border health issues, and establish grant programs to improve public health infrastructure and infectious disease monitoring. 

Many residents of New Mexico's border communities face unique public health challenges, due to a high volume of cross-border traffic, distances from larger cities, inadequate roads and transportation infrastructure, and deficient water and sewer systems. Some of the challenges border communities face include poor access to health care services, high unemployment rates, low educational attainment and high rates of dangerous diseases. Udall and Heinrich's bill seeks to address these issues by improving social and economic well-being in border areas, improving public health preparedness, and increasing access to funding for long-term investments in economic development in border communities. 

"Our Border Health Security Act will help improve quality of life and reduce health disparities for New Mexico residents along our southern border through improved public health infrastructure and infectious disease monitoring," Udall said. "Public health measures are particularly important for rural and border communities that face elevated risks for the spread of diseases like tuberculosis. Diseases don't respect international borders, but by creating partnerships and addressing the unique health challenges in border areas, we can help ensure that residents have access to efficient and high quality public health services and health care."

“Our border communities need support to tackle the unique health challenges the region faces,” Heinrich said. “This bill will improve and protect the health of our border residents by strengthening health infrastructure and ensuring health services are robust and accessible.”

Among other things, Udall and Heinrich’s bill would effectively reauthorize the Early Warning Infectious Disease Surveillance (EWIDS) program, which was created in 2003 to provide states along the U.S.-Mexico and U.S.-Canada borders with funding to detect, identify and report outbreaks of infectious diseases. Funding for the program stopped in 2012, leaving the nation more vulnerable to infectious disease, epidemics and bioterrorism without a strong system for disease surveillance, prevention and treatment along its international borders. 

The bill would also authorize $7 million per year for border grants and operations, and address high rates of disease and inadequate hazard preparedness infrastructure along the nation's northern and southern borders by: 

- 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. 

- Authorizing a border health grant program to address priorities and 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 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. 

U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) is also an original cosponsor of the Border Health Security Act of 2015, and U.S. Representative Rubén Hinojosa (D-TX) is introducing companion legislation in the House. The legislation is supported by the New Mexico Department of Health, La Clinica de Familia Inc. in Doña Ana County, and the American Public Health Association.