EDITORIAL: Finding forces

Valley institutions could lead in fight vs. infectious disease

The establishment of a medical school in the Rio Grande Valley would have been auspicious at any time, but the current global health scare makes the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley School of Medicine especially welcome.

The immediate benefit to our local institution is the obvious help it offers in providing healthcare professionals in an area that traditionally has had one of the nation’s worst shortages of doctors and nurses; our pages frequently contain recruitment ads that offer financial bonuses to doctors and nurses who are willing to commit to long-term contracts. But as the new medical school builds and expands new instructional and research programs, UTRGV could also be in a prime position to address some of the very issues that are filling today’s newspapers and airtime.

Valley physicians, like their colleagues across the country, have been busy in recent weeks as more people have asked to be checked for cold and flu symptoms that they might have self-treated previously. The coronavirus that is causing widespread concern is unusual, but the global growth of trade and travel could make transmission of such diseases a greater possibility.

The Valley could be uniquely positioned to become a major site for the study of communicable diseases. New programs and buildings, which already are planned, could easily be dedicated to such research. Its application also could be heavier in this area, where warm temperatures and the widespread presence of water sources such as the Rio Grande, resacas and irrigation canals make outbreaks of mosquito-borne illnesses such as dengue and cholera a constant threat.

The university’s location on the border would not only help provide treatment to U.S. and Mexican patients, but also draw students, faculty and perhaps support from both countries.

In addition, the growing presence of Texas A& M in the area, which still has a major agricultural presence, could also add to research into fighting virus-carrying mosquitoes with pesticides that are increasingly safe for humans.

The Rio Grande Valley has long celebrated a connection to diseasefi ghting research. William Gorgas, a doctor, researcher and army surgeon general, contracted yellow fever while stationed at Fort Brown in Brownsville during the 1880s. His research helped determine that mosquitoes carry such viruses, and that controlling the pests could help control yellow fever, malaria and other diseases.

The old fort hospital, which today is the administration building for Texas Southmost College, carries Gorgas’ name.

UTRGV officials might be inspired to build upon that legacy and work to establish a top-tier research facility that helps continue the life-saving work of studying diseases, their transmission and treatment. Their work could not only support the growing number of medical professionals in the Valley, but also attract more researchers and medical workers to the area.

Building an institution that both provides and attracts top medical professionals and researchers would begin a cycle of improvement that would benefit this area for years to come.