WIMAUMA — With about 200,000 migrant farmworkers in Florida, UF/IFAS Extension and the UF College of Medicine will screen as many as possible for various health conditions and give them nutrition information to help improve access to much-needed health care.
First stop, Wimauma. Then, they hope, the rest of Florida.
As part of an overall UF/IFAS Extension statewide health initiative, they plan to help an underserved population with preventive and health-maintenance care.
It all starts Jan. 22. Any farmworker can take advantage of the free screenings by going to Beth-El Farmworker Ministry, at 18240 U.S. 301 in Wimauma from 8:30 a.m. to 1 p.m.
After the Wimauma health fair, the organizers hope to make this a permanent, mobile health clinic to serve farmworkers across the state.
Project leaders are starting in Wimauma because it’s one of many places around Florida with a huge influx of migrant farmworkers, particularly during the winter harvest season, said John Diaz, president of CAFÉ Latino – the Coalition of Florida Extension Educators for Latinos.
John Diaz, UF/IFAS assistant professor of agricultural education and communication, is helping organize Saturday’s health fair for farmworkers in Wimauma. From there, he and his collaborators hope to reach farmworkers statewide with a mobile health clinic, giving out information about healthy lifestyles and screening for conditions such as high blood pressure, COVID and chagas.
Diaz is coordinating the fair with Dr. Norman Beatty, an assistant professor of medicine in the division of infectious diseases and global medicine in the College of Medicine, which is part of UF Health, the university’s academic health center, and an affiliate faculty in the UF Center for Latin American Studies.
Having joined forces, Diaz and Beatty have invited a host of other partners excited to join the effort.
“After reading an article on ‘UF at Work’ on the CAFÉ Latino website, I knew immediately I needed to reach out to Dr. Diaz,” Beatty said. “Within days, our partnership sprang into action.”
“Our plan is to continue to offer these health fairs throughout Florida where we are needed the most. Partnering with UF/IFAS, we hope to reach these underserved communities,” he said. “Our strategy is to utilize a mobile approach to health care delivery. This is an essential workforce that often suffers from a lack of resources and significant health care disparity.”
Beatty will screen for diabetes, high blood pressure, obesity, major depression, heart disease and Chagas disease. These diseases often go unrecognized for years, if not decades, before they manifest clinical signs and symptoms.
He is particularly passionate about Chagas.
“Over 300,000 people in the United States are infected, but less than 1% have been diagnosed,” Beatty said. He is pioneering a program researching the prevalence of this disease here in Florida because at least 18,000 are estimated to be infected.
“Chagas is found throughout Mexico, Central and South America,” Beatty said. “It can be a fatal disease that often goes overlooked among the Latin American population. Early screening and linkage to health care resources can help those at-risk for these diseases receive the care they need and prevent future complications.”
In addition to health screenings, COVID-19 vaccination will be offered to those who have not been inoculated or need a booster. UF/IFAS Extension and the College of Medicine are coordinating efforts with the UF College of Veterinary Medicine and the Hillsborough County health department.
While the doctor performs the screenings, UF/IFAS Extension agents and staff will give information to farmworkers about improving their health via activity and nutrition, said Diaz, an assistant professor of agricultural education and communication at the UF/IFAS Plant City office.
In Alachua County and surrounding regions in North Florida — where Beatty primarily works —he and his staff have conducted health fairs to provide primary health screenings for agricultural workers and linked them to local resources to receive care if they’re at-risk for one of these chronic conditions.
Beatty and his research assistant, Nelson Alejandro Luque, are happy to collaborate with UF/IFAS to improve farmworkers’ health.
“Through our existing screening program, we have unearthed new cases of these common conditions, including Chagas disease,” Luque said. “We are thrilled to work with Dr. Diaz and UF/IFAS to expand our efforts and reach even more within the farmworker community here in Florida.”