Originally published in September 2021
There are approximately 150,000 farmworkers and their dependents in North Carolina each growing season, but this estimate is considered low. One of the groups Bethsaida and I visited this summer, AMEXCAN, is essential to the state’s Mexican and Latino population.
COVID-19 Hits Hard – Among the many services AMEXCAN provides, education and outreach regarding cancer, diabetes, mental health and the COVID-19 pandemic has been crucial. The pandemic invaded Eastern North Carolina’s Latino migrant communities and cases continue to rise. A sizable portion of the population is not vaccinated. This is due to multiple reasons, including lack of transportation, isolation and fear of government officials from undocumented workers.
“There is a lot of misinformation about COVID-19 and it has been spread since the start of the pandemic,” Juvencio Rocha Peralta, the executive director, told us. This is especially true about the COVID-19 vaccine. Through their Juntos Sí Podemos (Together We Can) campaign, they are trying to build vaccine confidence so that more people will be vaccinated.
Bringing Testing Kits and Vaccines – To do this health educators go out to the migrant camps and present factual, reliable information and promote basic prevention measures to keep everyone safe. This work is in partnership with NC Latino COVID-19 Task Force, the NC Latino Health Alliance, and other outreach efforts across the counties and state. As a result of this partnership, Pitt County was chosen out of two in the nation to pilot free at-home COVID-19 testing kits. AMEXCAN distributed 400 kits throughout the community with the support of Latino business partners.
“Although the pilot program did not track test results, we feel that people were able to be compliant with testing,” noted Juvencio. “We were able to refer them to the Health and Human Services Department to help them” if they tested positive. But to really be successful getting the word out, the local health department, education department and other public agencies need to provide bilingual services to the community. The area also needs better infrastructure, such as the Internet, to connect people to the services and resources they need. “Many local and state government agencies are either unable or unwilling to serve the Latino community,” he said.
“The Latino community is more likely to suffer from bad health, and those with bad health are more likely to be poor,” Juvencio continued. During the quarantine period, AMEXCAN was able to purchase two vans so that their health and cultural fairs could continue. Now the vans are being used as mobile food banks, COVID-19 testing sites and vaccination clinics.
Without money for medicine and treatment, people must make really difficult decisions, and usually essentials like food take priority over health. People who are sick get sicker. The health educators of AMEXCAN are trying to change that.
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