Breast Cancer among Haitian-Am Women

Breast Cancer Prevention Barriers in the Haitian Women Population

In a country that admits yearly a high number of immigrants from all over the world, there are many of them including Haitian women who settle in New York. Having achieved their “first American dream”, thousands of those immigrant women are part of the working class. Several of them climb the educational echelon and are assimilated.

They communicate with others and are privileged to read about first hand information regarding health care issues. Next to this group are the large percentages of women who constitute the “minority majority” for not being successful thus remaining behind. Those women are illiterate and economically disadvantaged.

As a result, they are unaware of the dynamics process associated with metropolitan life in addition to being unknowledgeable of the basics in health education, disease prevention and treatment options.

EMG Health Communications, Inc., a non-profit organization, decided to be proactive especially when the findings continuously reveal the growing trends of the number of women yearly diagnosed with breast cancer.

The task is gigantic when one takes into account the non-legal status that still keeps many Haitian women in the closet and hesitant to come out for fear of being deported. Many women do not have insurance coverage.

They often discredit the publicity inviting them to sign for free medical testing and annual procedure even if they have no coverage. Many stay away from these offers because of someone they know who responded to the invitation and was later charged wrongfully for the tests. Restoring trust and convincing Haitian women that they must participate and take advantage of the resources available to them, are difficult steps to achieve.

This population is generally distant with others preferring to remain in their own clusters. EMG Health models of using linguistically competent messages and having staff that can culturally identify with and educate clients, gave excellent results. For instance, approximately fifteen (15%) of women regain confidence and accept to take part in and benefit from the free outreach programs.

In the Haitian women population, the most challenging factor in disease prevention is associated with the culture that is deeply rooted in their belief system. Knowing that one woman out of eight is at risk of being diagnosed with breast cancer makes little to no impact on the Haitian woman who feels vulnerable by admitting that her eating habits are vastly unique thus making her different from others who make those statistics.

Furthermore, she believes that she is blessed by the hand of God who will protect her from evil and diseases. If, by some fortunate circumstances, a woman is able to feel and recognize a foreign mass in her breast, she tends to first treat herself by using palm oil or other leaves on the site of the mass with the hope that the mass will dissolve.

The woman will rarely divulge her findings to anyone close to her. She may prefer to see a traditional healer who will prescribe his own medicine before going to a regular doctor when diagnosis may come too late.

Culture constitutes a major barrier to health education and to educating Haitian women whether they have or have not assimilated in mainstream America. Culture is a sensitive topic that must be dealt with acceptability, caution and fairness in order to increase the number of women who, at the very least, will understand the importance of breast cancer prevention.

From Elsy Guibert

Diversity and Cancer Screenings

Cancer, 5/04 ONLINE

Observatoire Francophone des Tumeurs Malignes Rares de l'Ovaire


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