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New Agromedicine program: MSU emphasizes ag health, safety

The health and safety of Mississippi, especially the agricultural sector in the Delta, is the primary focus of the newly formed Agromedicine Program, a collaboration between the Mississippi State University Extension Service and the University of Mississippi Medical Center.

It is designed to prevent agricultural-related illness and injury in rural areas. The program is funded through the Delta Health Alliance, and the primary focus area is the Mississippi Delta.

Beverly Howell, head of Extension family and consumer education at MSU, explained the goals of the program.

“Through the Agromedicine Program, Mississippi Extension will provide educational information and programs to rural residents and farm workers that will increase their understanding of rural health and safety issues,” Howell said. “In addition, the program will track the occurrence, outcomes and trends of agricultural illness and injury in Mississippi.”

The program will bring the medical community together with a variety of people, including rural and agricultural workers, their families, youth and agricultural industry employees.

Howell said the idea for the program was formed more than 20 years ago. Several leaders have embraced the concept of focusing the efforts of many interested groups on one issue.

Chip Morgan, executive vice president of Delta Council in Stoneville, Miss., said the idea for an agromedicine program was the brainchild of the late Robert McCarty, who worked with the Mississippi Department of Agriculture and Commerce's Bureau of Plant Industry.

“Robert McCarty showed us what an agromedicine program was and could be in the late 1980s,” Morgan said.

“Robert had the foresight to see that when you're in an environment that includes agriculture as the major manufacturing employer, you need agriculture and health care professionals working together to address the unique environmental and health care-related issues commonly associated with a rural area.”

The program is headquartered in Stoneville with the Delta Health Alliance, which provides the funding. It has a staff of two, with a third planned by fall.

Melanie Pollan joined the staff from the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Agricultural Research Service. She is a Ph.D. candidate in the UMMC's Department of Health Sciences.

“The Mississippi Delta has one of the most underserved populations in the United States in terms of education and access to healthcare,” Pollan said.

“Our job is to increase awareness of some of these problems and help to improve access to services. Sometimes access has to do with limited knowledge about services or health problems. Other times health services are not available or attainable due to a variety of problems such as cost or transportation.”

Maci Pittman earned a master's degree in health promotion/health education before working with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta as a public health prevention specialist. She now is on the Extension agromedicine team.

“As we get started, we're finding existing health promotion programs and backing them through resources and staff,” Pittman said.

Two present goals are to establish working relationships with the diabetes management clinics in the Delta and to offer farm safety day camps as a pilot program to all the public and private school fourth-graders in Sunflower County, Miss.

“We're in the process of forming an advisory council that will include influential farmers, political leaders, and representatives of Farm Bureau, hospitals, insurance companies and anyone with ties to agriculture,” Pittman said. “This advisory group will help us identify areas to focus our efforts, and will give us guidance as we offer programming and begin outreach efforts.”

Contact the staff of the Agromedicine Program at 662-686-3520 for more information.

Bonnie Coblentz writes for Mississippi State University Ag Communications.

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