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Discussing Latino health challenges can bring up strong political, cultural and medical debates. Why do Latinos have a higher prevalence of obesity, diabetes and risk of heart disease than some other cultural groups? Are Latinos receiving quality healthcare and taking preventive measures to stay on track with their health? Is American citizenship a factor in healthcare?
Why is health important? Enjoying life, embracing family and celebrating joy are constants among Latinos. Health is important to each of these areas, but it’s often overlooked. Health provides the foundation for living a full and enjoyable life for anyone of any culture. Families experience grief and loss when a member is in poor health, but it’s difficult to avoid the early onset of chronic health conditions unless there is a strong emphasis on healthy choices, diet and exercise.
There are five major issues facing the Latino community:
While there is a lack of Spanish-speaking medical professionals, the language barrier between Latinos and health care providers is not the only communication issue. Medical professionals should consider Latinos’ values, beliefs and culture when providing treatment. Religion may also play a role and can be the reason many Latinos do not seek treatment. Doctors need to be aware of Latino culture and know what a patient means when they are feeling ill and describe the reason as receiving “the evil eye” from someone they passed on the street or “bad air” while they were sleeping.
2. Family and culture values
Latinos are very protective of their families and cherish quality time spent together. The culture thrives on celebrations of life and love. Many Latinos look to their families and trusted friends for help before seeking medical attention. This relationship can create a gap between health care providers and Latinos. Some Latinos may not want to share personal health information. Doctors and patients should work together to establish open, honest communication.
3. Getting preventive care
Many people are reluctant to go to the doctor unless they are seriously ill or in pain. Parents, grandparents and other family members may not emphasize preventive health. Latinos need to see the benefit of regular doctors’ visits and health screenings and assessments so they can catch health issues before they become severe problems.
4. Immigrant status
With the number of Latinos in the United States growing rapidly, the number of immigrants who are undocumented increases as well. Many undocumented immigrants are fearful of seeking medical care for themselves or their families, even if their children are natural-born citizens. It’s estimated that more than 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the United States are uninsured. Most seek medical attention from hospitals, which is a higher cost than regular care. Some states, like New York, provide emergency Medicaid coverage to immigrants who aren’t eligible to receive care under public health insurance. Other options for undocumented immigrants include Federal Qualified Health Centers, which are available to various at-risk communities and provide preventive, primary, pre-natal care and counseling services regardless of insurance, immigrant status or ability to pay.
5. Latino health attitudes and perspectives
With any culture, there are misconceptions when it comes to health care. Some Latinos have seen their family members suffer with a chronic health condition and receive poor or little treatment, creating a stigma against a certain treatment, doctor or procedure. Making quality health information readily available will help empower family members to make educated health decisions.
The Latino community can take action to overcome these health challenges. A greater knowledge of health, culture and empowerment will help them get the care they need.