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The UCLA Blum Center on Poverty and Health in Latin America is dedicated to the mission of bringing poverty and other social determinants of health to the forefront of research and training in Latin America.

Why Latin America?

Latin America is a region of almost 600 million diverse individuals and communities that make essential contributions to our global society1. While the natural resources, economic opportunities, diversity and industrious spirit of the people are tremendous, persistent legacies of inequity plague Latin America. These challenges spread across borders and effect many Latin Americans throughout the Americas, given widespread migration from the region. An interdisciplinary approach is necessary to tackle these complex issues impacting prosperity for all Latin American communities. The mission of the UCLA Blum Center on Poverty and Health in Latin America is to collaborate with the region’s institutions and communities to address health challenges and promote solutions to issues of poverty and other social determinants of health.

History and Demographics 

Latin America’s unique and complex history is the foundation of its present day cultural diversity and societal structure. The region can be divided geo-politically into the following sub-regions: Mexico, the Caribbean, Central America, the Guianas, Andean states, and the Southern Cone. Latin America is home to more than 400 diverse indigenous groups that vary linguistically, culturally, politically, and economically; their contributions, perspectives, and legacies play a vital role in the development of the region. A wealth of cultural traditions has cultivated a wide array of fine arts, film, music, dance, and lifestyles that range past the US-Mexico border down to the southern tip of South America. The region has also contributed to innovations in agriculture, math, astronomy, architecture, art, and literature that can be traced back to pre-Columbian centers of innovation and learning such as Tenochtitlan, Chichen Itza, Machu Picchu, and Monte Alban. Nations throughout the region have harnessed its bountiful resources to drive global economic activities, which include global production and supply of products, such as coffee, sugar, bananas, and oil. The European conquest led to rapid mestizaje, or mixing of races, between European, African, Asian and indigenous populations as an influx of slaves began to settle in Latin America. This fusion of cultures transformed the language, food, beliefs and entire society of Latin America as a whole. However, the European conquest brought much political and social unrest that has driven the growth of social inequities in Latin American societies. Latin America’s historical, political, and social contexts are critical for informing effective and sustainable health interventions to address the region’s health disparities.

 Health and Poverty in Latin America 

There are pressing health issues in Latin America, both new and old, that have yet to be effectively tackled. The region faces a double burden of both communicable diseases, as well as increased rates of non-communicable diseases (NCDs). Roughly 50% of child mortality in Latin America is due to high rates of malnutrition, which drives four main communicable diseases: acute respiratory diseases, diarrhea, neonatal sepsis and malaria. However, there is an increasing epidemiological transition present in this region as cases of communicable diseases are being replaced with an influx of NCDs, such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, cancer, and chronic respiratory diseases. This influx of NCDs is problematic throughout Latin America and is driven by high rates of obesity, hypertension, and lifestyle choices. Additionally, many other pressing challenges within the region include environmental, maternal and mental health issues.

While medical interventions are crucial in combating health challenges, they do not comprehensively address the root problems that are impacting the health of Latin Americans today. It is necessary to examine the social conditions Latinos are currently facing in order to effectively make long term, systemic and sustainable improvements in health and overall quality of life. Inequalities that exist in Latin America’s societal structures, such as gender, race and ethnicity, employment and access to education, are all essential determinants of health that need to be considered. There is an urgency to address these interconnected barriers to health in order to improve and eliminate growing disease burdens.

The Latin American Diaspora

Issues of poverty and health for Latin American communities are in no way limited to the region south of the US-Mexico border. In this global era, there are various complex drivers of migration, such as civil unrest, violence, unemployment, and poverty, which have driven waves of Latin Americans to migrate across the globe, especially north to the United States. Migration of Latin Americans has extended these issues beyond Latin America’s borders, and must be addressed collaboratively via cross-border efforts. Roughly 10% of Latin America’s population has emigrated to the United States. In 2013, 17% of the United States’ population was composed of Latinos, making them the largest minority group2. The U.S. Census Bureau reported that in 2012, roughly 38% of California’s population was Latino and this number continues to rise3. As the population of Latin Americans continues to increase throughout the United States and other host countries, it is critical to address the health needs of these individuals while also focusing on the core health problems within Latin America itself.

The UCLA Blum Center on Poverty and Health in Latin America

The UCLA Blum Center on Poverty and Health in Latin America aims to understand the region’s social determinants of health in order to collaboratively support the development of impactful, sustainable and culturally relevant health interventions. The Center applies a comprehensive understanding of the social, economic, cultural, and political contexts throughout the Americas to tackle the complex challenges of addressing poverty and improving health for Latin American populations. The UCLA Blum Center embraces an interdisciplinary and collaborative approach that harnesses the resources and expertise of a world-class university that not only serves Latin American immigrant communities domestically, but is geographically accessible to Latin American countries. Through the creation of networks and collaborations among institutions, innovative research approaches and solutions in health policy and practice are developed and implemented throughout the Americas.

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1World Bank. Data derived from Countries and Economies Latin America and Caribbean (developing only). 2004. Available at http://data.worldbank.org/region/LAC, Accessed January 15, 2015.
2Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Data derived from Minority Health: Hispanic or Latino Populations. 2014. Available at http://www.cdc.gov/minorityhealth/populations/REMP/hispanic.html, Accessed January 15, 2015.
3U.S. Census Bureau: State and County QuickFacts. Data derived from Population Estimates, American Community Survey, Census of Population and Housing, State and County Housing Unit Estimates, County Business Patterns, Nonemployer Statistics, Economic Census, Survey of Business Owners, Building Permits. 6 January 2014. Available at http://quickfacts.census.gov/qfd/states/06000.html, Accessed March 3, 2014.