California State University, Northridge preconception peer educators presented their first of two infant and maternal health and wellness events, “Healthy Families Begin With You,” Tuesday in the Northridge Center Complex at the University Student’s Union.
Launched in May 2007, the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Minority Health initiated a Preconception Peer Education Program to raise awareness about infant mortality, and preconception health among minority communities, according to the department’s Web site. One of CSUN’s peer educators, and the campus’s chapter’s Vice President Lilit Hairapetyan, was trained in the program.
“We were asked to go back to our campus and spread the word,” she said, adding that Tuesday’s campus event was the first of two events. The second, a community event, will be held April 28 at Birmingham Community Charter High School in Van Nuys.
“Our hope is to educate the campus, and community, about health disparities because minorities will be the majority by 2020,” Hairapetyan said. “We need to be educated about our own cultural health.”
A “Promoting Health” fair with free lunch kicked off the event with on, and off-campus, health organizations promoting healthy living, maternal and infant health.
The peer educators at the March of Dimes table took a show-and-tell approach to the effects of poor preconception planning, and the struggle premature babies face in breathing during the first months of their lives.
Taking a thin straw to their mouths, students were instructed to hold their nose and breath through the straw for 60 seconds. After 10 seconds most students were gasping for air.
Members of thr CSUN Institute of Community Health and Wellbeing were also available to answer questions about the low-cost and sliding-scale health and wellness services available to CSUN students. Although the institute’s Web site is not yet up and running, graduate student Marissa Mills, who works at the institute, said that they provide many services and can put students in touch with the 10 on-campus wellness centers.
The seminar showcased the Office of Minority Health’s 2009 documentary “Crisis in the Crib: Saving Our Nations Babies.” The film highlighted the effects stress, low socioeconomic status, and being female have on the mortality rates of women in the African-American communities of Memphis, Atlanta. According to the film, Memphis has the highest infant mortality rates of any major city in the U.S., and among the African-American community the infant mortality rate is three times higher than their Caucasian counterparts.
To personalize the film’s message, Dr. Meredith Merchant, faculty advisor for national health initiatives focusing on prematurity awareness, was invited to share the story of the death of her daughter, Naila Asha. Born on June 29, 2005, Naila, which means ‘to attain success,’ died a day before her first birthday, June 28, 2006. Merchant believes stress was a factor in the premature birth.
“It helps me know there’s a place for my story, and a place where I can inspire people,” Merchant said.
The seminar also featured a panel of experts that discussed the causes, cases and ways to reduce health disparities and infant mortality among minority groups.
According to Madeline Sepulveda, an educator with Kaiser Permanente’s Regional Cultural Responsive Care program, language barriers play a large part in health disparities in minority communities.
“We’re not doing enough to make people aware of the services available to them,” she said. “…Our responsibility as a whole is to take care of the human race, that means every shape, size or color.”
While class schedules created a revolving door of students visiting the day-long seminar, organizers said approximately 300 students attended the event.
Amelia Morehead, a junior on the Public Health track in the Department of Health Sciences, attended the event to learn more about health disparities. She said she was astounded at how infant mortality could affect even a college-educated, successful woman like Merchant. Morehead said she would encourage students to attend any future events.
“If you’re not in public health education, you wouldn’t know about these aspects of health,” she said. “I think it would be really important for those students.”