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Editorial: UNM’s ECHO a good fit for helping migrant health

Those leading the charge to use the University of New Mexico’s telemedicine resources to help treat sick migrants in crowded detention facilities near the U.S.-Mexico border have the right idea.

Project Extension for Community Healthcare Outcomes (or “Project ECHO”) makes perfect sense when considering the particulars of the border situation.

Facilities are crowded with asylum-seeking migrants who have been crossing the border in record numbers for months, often on foot. Some are sick, and some are deathly so; in fact, more than 20 migrants have died in U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement custody since late 2016, according to The Associated Press. Setting aside the larger immigration question, it’s clearly an unacceptable state of affairs.

Project ECHO is suited to rise to the challenge. Setting up an ECHO program will allow expert specialists – most likely in fields like pediatrics, infectious diseases, family medicine and global health – to share their expertise through teleconference with clinicians on the border, enabling them to provide more and better care for detained migrants.

Since UNM’s Dr. Sanjeev Arora started Project ECHO in 2003 to help specialists disseminate knowledge about hepatitis C, the program has spread – and now has a global impact in hundreds of areas, from treating different diseases to addressing societal challenges such as law enforcement’s interaction with mentally ill people.

Arora’s intent in creating the first Project ECHO was to prevent people with a curable disease – hepatitis C – from dying simply because there was no or little access to proper care due to where they lived.

Project ECHO’s goal has not changed and is the perfect fit for helping treat asylum seekers suffering myriad health issues at overcrowded and understaffed facilities. Project ECHO is cost- and resource-efficient, and, most importantly, it’s humane. Because caring for the health of people detained by the U.S. government should not be a partisan issue; it’s a humanitarian one.

This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.