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The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Metro Group Fosters Latin Health Links
By RICK BADIE, Staff
August 12, 2003
When State Rep. Pedro Marin returns to Puerto Rico, but he's not traveling to retrace old haunts.
This trip is about health.
The Duluth Democrat is traveling with 14 metro Atlanta health professionals as part of an effort to promote health awareness alliances with Latin America. The medical group will help an island town organize its first health fiesta along the lines of one held in Atlanta for the past six years.
"We're going as a support group," said Marin, who described Aibonito, the site of the fair, as a "rural, mountainous town with a lot of need." The community of 25,000 is a two-hour drive from San Juan.
Metro Atlanta's health fair has become a signature event for Dia de la Mujer Latina Inc. (Day of the Latin American Woman), a nonprofit organization founded by Venus Gines of Marietta, who will be with the group.
The breast cancer survivor has made it her mission to promote cancer awareness --- and general health education --- to Latin American women.
Participants are offered free breast exams, mammograms, pap smears and tests to detect high blood pressure and sexually transmitted diseases including HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.
"As a breast cancer survivor, this was my 'thank you' to God for giving me the extra years to educate Latinas so they don't suffer needlessly due to lack of education and awareness about cancer," said Gines, who is of Puerto Rican descent and a former flight attendant.
"This partnership with Puerto Rico is symbolic," she said. "We want to work with them to eliminate cancer and other health issues, and we're looking at Grady Hospital being a partner with the [cancer clinic in Puerto Rico]."
The Grady Health System and volunteers from several county health facilities and clinics play a substantial role as sponsors of the Atlanta fiesta. This year's event on May 2 at Plaza Fiesta on Buford Highway drew nearly 8,000 people.
Most important, nearly 1,500 women got free cancer screenings.
"That's remarkable," said Gines, who has been contacted by dozens of advocates in other Hispanic-rich cities (Miami, for one) who want to start a fair of their own.
"We had about 300 volunteers and about 120 doctors from all the health care facilities and private practices," she recalled. "The good thing about our program is that, even if professionals can't participate" during the fiesta, "they can sponsor a woman to get a free mammogram, which is $75 per person."
"We include music, dancing and entertainment," Gines said. "In the midst of all that, the women are getting screened. This is not only a dream come true for me, but it is an answered prayer."
"It's unbelievable, really," said Marin, who moved to the Atlanta area from the island eight years ago. "To come back to your native land as a mature professional, especially in politics --- it's real nice."
For more information about Dia de la Mujer Latina Inc., please contact Venus Gines, the director, at 678-494-8879; firstname.lastname@example.org.