EL CENTRO — In Imperial County, childhood asthma ranks among the highest rates in the nation, so the Imperial Valley Child Asthma Program (IVCAP) aimed to raise awareness concerning this health problem by hosting the annual “Stop and Listen” Asthma Forum May 2 at the Old Post Office Pavilion in El Centro. The event was held in observance of World Asthma Day.
Agencies from around the Valley attended the forum to help educate the public on the causes of asthma and other breathing problems. The Imperial County Air Pollution Control District gave information on its flag program, a program that flies flags at schools and online to signal the air quality for those who cannot breath well. The El Centro Regional Medical Center gave breathing tests to forum attendees to check their breathing and oxygen levels, testing whether they registered as healthy breathers.
Games, face painting, and puppet shows were also provided for children at the event.
The “Stop and Listen” asthma forum has been held annually for seven years in an effort to raise awareness of asthma and promote the resources that are available to local residents. IVCAP also partners with local high schools, the Imperial Valley Regional Occupational Program and the San Diego State University, Calexico campus, to assign projects giving students a chance to create ways to solve Imperial Valley’s asthma and air pollution problems.
Aide Fulton, director of IVCAP, said it was important for the community to know what is available, and that is why the forum was created.
“We did this in order to bring the community together to improve awareness in our community,” said Fulton.
Helina Hoyt, advisor for the SDSU Nursing program, agreed the important part is to send out the message that asthma can be managed.
“We hope people can see that they can make an action plan to manage their asthma,” said Hoyt.
For the competition, IVCAP partnered for the first time with the SDSU nursing program to help students plan their projects and mentor them with their speeches.
Four high schools competed in the poster and speech contest including Calexico, Imperial, Southwest, and the Valley Academy. Teams had to plan and create a project to combat air pollution that would be feasible in a real life situation and present it as if truly proposing the idea to city councils and board members. Students were told to keep a budget of $50,000 in mind when creating these projects.
“It allowed me to see how our daily routine affects our health,” said Alana Villa, a student from Valley Academy.
“Asthma is a huge thing and this event is great for people to see the resources,” said Lucia Querney from Imperial High School. “It affects everything and everyone.”
These projects are important in encouraging the students to think about what health conditions air pollution can cause in the community, according to organizers.
Data from the Local Health Authority Commission shows that in the Imperial Valley, at least 14 percent of residents live with asthma, children in particular. Presenters at the forum said much of the Valley’s pollution can be traced back to the arid desert region, being below sea level, air pollution from Mexico, and agricultural industry side effects, an industry that is important to many livelihoods.
According to the CaliforniaBreathing.org website, these factors are what drive up the statistic of diagnosed asthma cases in Imperial County, now numbering approximately 23,000 of both children and adults. A representative from El Centro Medical Center said there are sometimes four to five childhood asthma cases a day at the hospital.
“We love our Valley, but it hurts us,” said one agency representative.