Latinos are three times as likely as non-Hispanic whites to suffer from potentially life-threatening diabetes. They are far more likely to be plagued by asthma and hypertension too. While politicians may pay lip service to the injustice and dangers of such disparities, Aida Giachello, 59, has rolled up her sleeves to take these scourges head on. She founded the Midwest Latino Health Research, Training and Policy Center at the University of Illinois at Chicago 12 years ago. The center has since become a national model for engaging community leaders, rather than outside "experts," in collecting data, assessing medical needs and developing plans for combatting health problems that disproportionately affect Latinos.
Among its programs are three diabetes-focused self-care centers in struggling Chicago neighborhoods, each serving roughly a thousand residents a month, many of them undocumented and uninsured. Giachello, a University of Chicagon-educated sociologist and former social worker, has made the training of researchers, physicians and nurses a priority. "There are cultural elements to providing care that even top non-Hispanic students don't understand," she says. For example, she explains, many clinicians are ignorant about the widespread use of faith healers, herbal concoctions and other home remedies among Hispanics and so don't always know the relevant questions to ask during medical assessments. "A lot of what we do comes down to building trust," says Giachello, who grew up in Puerto Rico. "We have a lot of work to do."