From flu and shingles vaccines to late registration and absentee voting for the U.S. presidential elections, the American Benevolent Society’s (ABS) annual health fair at Union Church in Lomas de Chapultepec on Friday, Oct. 21, was all about helping the community to keep healthy and stay involved.
More than 120 people showed up to get their annual flu shot, as well as tetanus, pneumococcus and shingles (herpes zoster virus) vaccinations.
There was also a stand manned by representatives of the U.S. Embassy who helped U.S. citizens to register and vote in the upcoming presidential elections.
“We decided to include the shingles vaccine as of last year because there was a growing interest among our members to protect themselves against this horrible disease,” explained ABS executive director Barbara Franco.
“It turns out that one in three adults over the age of 50 will get shingles in their lifetime.”
Shingles is a painful skin rash that is caused by the varicella zoster virus (VZV), the same virus that causes chickenpox. Anyone who has had chickenpox in the past can develop shingles, and as people age, they become more susceptible to the disease, which can last up to a month.
The four-strain influenza vaccines that the ABS had imported for the fair can still be obtained at a special discounted price through the ABS offices (tel: 5540-5123) inside Union Church, Franco said.
“It’s important to remember that last year’s flu vaccination is not necessarily going to protect you from this year’s flu,” she said.
“You need to get a new vaccination each year, preferably before the season starts or reaches a peak.”
In Mexico, the season usually begins with the onset of cold weather, which is why the ABS has traditionally holds its health fair in October.
The Center for Disease Control (CDC) in the United States recommends that everyone over age six months should get an annual flu vaccination, although in Mexico the Health Secretariat primarily targets 20 million high-risk patients (those under the age of five, the elderly, pregnant women, health workers and people with conditions that can weaken their immune systems).
Senior citizens and people with developmental disabilities are especially at risk. It’s estimated that 90 percent of seasonal flu-related deaths and more than 60 percent of seasonal flu-related hospitalizations occur in people 65 years and older. This is because human immune defenses become weaker with age.
In addition to the immunizations and voter assistance, the health fair included free glucose and blood pressure screening by ABC personnel and courtesy eye exams.
There were also low-cost blood tests courtesy of Olarte y Akle laboratories, as well as representatives from Plentitude, an assisted living support service for the elderly and chronically ill, and from Vrim, a low-cost Mexican health insurance.
“We first started the health fair back in 2003, when access to flu vaccinations was not always readily available in Mexico,” said Franco.
“Since we were already offering flu shots, we decided to include other health services and make them available for all members of the community.”
Franco likewise pointed out that the ABS also offers free monthly health screening — usually on the second Wednesday of the month between 9 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. These courtesy screenings include cholesterol, triglyceride and glucose tests, as well as blood pressure and body mass index checks.
“The American Benevolent Society is here to serve the community,” Franco said. “Helping people have access to health care and information is an important part of what we do.”
She also said that getting U.S. citizens to vote is a key aspect of the ABS’ mission.
She said that the ABS will be accepting absentee ballots until 5 p.m. on Wednesday, Oct. 26, which will be sent by overnight messenger to the United States.
The ABS will also be hosting a U.S. election night reception at the University Club, located at Avenida de la Reforma 150 in the Juárez neighborhood, on Tuesday, Nov. 8, starting at 5 p.m. There is a 450 peso admission fee, and part of the proceeds from that event will go toward the ABS’ dual national children’s program, which is working with Mexican and U.S. authorities to help document children born in the United States to undocumented migrants.
Founded in 1868, the American Benevolent Society is a non-profit organization that provides charitable assistance to both U.S. and Mexican nationals during periods of personal distress or financial need.