Mayor Landrieu, university presidents sign agreement on health, education with Honduran president

This article was published in The Hullabaloo on September 17, 2010.

Honduran President Porifirio Lobo Sosa visited New Orleans last week to seek help with his efforts to reform Honduran public education and public health.

President Sosa joined Mayor Mitch Landrieu, Tulane President Scott Cowen and representatives from University of New Orleans, Loyola University, Dillard University, Xavier University, Southern University of New Orleans and Louisiana State University in signing a memorandum of understanding. The memorandum formalizes their commitment to move forward by working together in three key areas: healthcare, public education and student exchange.

 

“We have a lot of experience in rebuilding public school systems here in New Orleans,” said Cowen, who founded the Cowen Institute for Public Education Initiatives shortly after Hurricane Katrina. “We’ll figure out what will work for them in terms of building their public education system… and serve as advisers for them.”

 

The post-Katrina transformation of 61 of 88 New Orleans public schools into charter schools — though controversial — is a move the Honduran leaders are considering replicating.

“We’ve had a huge problem with teachers’ unions. The teachers are striking all the time, and the kids are losing out on school days,” said Mayra Pineda, former Consul General and current liaison between the Honduran government and New Orleans city officials. “Charter schools are certainly one option to try to solve the union situation.”

New Orleans-area universities pledged to collaborate on various exchange programs, including scholarship opportunities for Honduran students who have demonstrated academic excellence and would otherwise not be able to afford to leave Honduras.

“I hope to send at least 50 [Honduran] students a year to study in the New Orleans universities,” said Lobo, whose daughter attends UNO.

UNO Chancellor Tim Ryan said he will welcome Honduran students at his school. “About 80 percent of our students are from New Orleans, and many, for financial reasons, can’t go abroad,” Ryan said. “So to be exposed to Latin Americans in their classes provides a tremendous learning experience.”

Tulane missionaries pose with the Misioneros de Experanze in front of the newly-constructed health clinic. PHOTO | CourtesyTIM RINALDI

Other university exchange programs in the works include faculty research positions and post-graduate degree programs for Honduran professors.

“The idea is to train some of our best students and teachers here in New Orleans and then have them come back and help improve our system and train others,” Honduran Health Minister Javier Pastor said.

Healthcare in Honduras is concentrated in cities with little or no access for those living in rural areas. “I am very interested in the idea of community health clinics, like New Orleans has done after Katrina,” Lobo said. “We want medical attention to be accessible to everybody, even in the most secluded areas.”

Senior Tim Rinaldi leads Mission Honduras, a Tulane student organization that raised $15,000 to build a community health clinic in the Honduran mountains last year.

“The government doesn’t seem aware of the mountain villages at all,” Rinaldi said. The clinic opened in May and now serves 13 villages, totaling about 600 families. “The city of San Pedro is the economic capital,” Rinaldi said. “It’s really Americanized with many hospitals and education. Then you drive three hours and suddenly there’s no electricity, no healthcare and education is really lacking.”

Another healthcare issue Honduras faces is the dengue fever epidemic, a vector-borne disease caused by infected mosquito bites that claimed more than 100 lives this summer and caused thousands to fall ill. There is no preventative vaccine for dengue fever. Dawn Wesson, associate professor in the Department of Tropical Medicine, however, said there are many ways that the Honduran government could control the spread of the disease, such as screening windows, spraying insecticides, using insecticide-treated nets and curtains and implementing a larger vector control program based on incident reports.

Though dengue has long been a problem in the country, the Honduran government had not employed any of these prevention methods prior to July, when Michael Carroll, the director of New Orleans Mosquito, Termite and Rodent Control Board, visited Honduras to help control the dengue epidemic. “In addition to providing advice, we can also help train Honduran scientists who could then go back and train future generations to help fight dengue and other problems,” said Wesson, adding that her department has previously hosted scientists from other countries such as Colombia, Mexico, China and Nigeria.

 

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