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Immigrant Healthcare Crisis

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An immigrant woman and her child are examined at a mobile health center in Virginia/ source: https://www.americanprogress.org/issues/immigration/news/2009/09/11/6693/fact-check-health-care-and-undocumented-immigrants/

Due to the massive crises of deportation and family separation facing America’s Latino immigrant community, it’s easy to forget that in addition to these incredibly pressing dangers and the imminent threat of persecution from various parties, immigrants also are forced to confront a variety of health issues. Their ability to respond to these concerns adequately is severely diminished as a result of their compromised position.

The majority of these health problems are not specific to the Latino community, but as they are often left untreated because of a result of lack of education or available health services, minor issues that could have been fixed quite easily have the tendency to develop into life-threatening problems.

Diabetes is unfortunately fairly prevalent in the Latino community as a result of genetics, but due to better diet and a more active lifestyle in Central and South American countries individuals stay healthier.  This condition becomes a far more serious problem once individuals immigrate to countries such as the United States. Though immigrants typically work long, strenuous hours at their jobs, these jobs often provide less cardiovascular benefits than their previous occupations, and this is further worsened by a stress-filled lifestyle in the United States where there is an abundance of processed foods and a shortage of affordable healthy options.

Another rarely discussed occurrence is that many immigrant children are revaccinated once they arrive in the United States because they lack the proper paperwork to prove their vaccination records. Although this practice is not known to have any adverse health effects, sometimes young children receive multiple vaccinations at once to quickly have an up-to-date immunization record, an experience that is undeniably somewhat traumatic to a frightened child in a strange new land.

While not providing adequate cardiovascular stimulation, much of the work available to immigrant communities in the United States involves long hours of back-breaking tasks that can cause musculoskeletal issues. One can observe the extent of this problem by looking at the long wait list of the orthopedic program at Puentes de Salud, a non-profit healthcare organization serving the immigrant community in Philadelphia. Almost as soon as the program was introduced, people scrambled to get a spot on the list and address long-standing physical concerns that they had not had the opportunity to have examined and corrected previously. Anette Silva, a nurse at Puentes de Salud, described the comprehensive approach of the orthopedic programs: “A pill doesn’t take care of everything, and we emphasize the importance of proper body mechanics and stretching.”

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Annette Silva examines a patient at Puentes de Salud/ source: http://www.thedp.com/article/2010/10/building_bridges_to_better_health

If it were not for the work of individuals like Silva and her co-workers at Puentes de Salud, the healthcare crisis facing the immigrant community in the United States could be far worse. Though most major American cities, including Philadelphia, allow immigrants to receive treatment at public health centers, this treatment is often only provided in emergency situations. Further, many immigrant patients face difficult language and cultural barriers when attempting to receive care at these facilities, which not only can prevent them from receiving the care they need in that instance, but also scare them away from future visits. Even worse, given that many of these individuals are unable to receive treatment until their condition becomes an emergency, situations that were fairly minor can be allowed to grow until full-scale healthcare dilemmas. This is, of course, compounded by economic barriers that prohibit many immigrants from receiving the treatment that they need.

Silva was particularly excited about the new prenatal care program being co-run by Puentes de Salud and Dr. Jack Ludmir at Jefferson University Hospital in Philadelphia. She lamented that prenatal care is not considered a basic human right, a disturbing fact that can cause serious pregnancy problems later.

Although kidney disease and renal failure affect the Latino community at a significantly lower rate than ailments such as diabetes, they nonetheless present a large and complicated problem given that nearly all undocumented immigrants are left with only one horrendous option: lifelong dialysis. Even if these individuals could find a donor match, they would lack the funds or insurance to cover the cost of the operation and have no choice but to go to a dialysis center for treatment every three days. Since the body begins to shut down after three days without proper kidney function, this is viewed as a medical emergency and treatment will be provided, but not before. Unfortunately, nothing can be done to prevent the problem from worsening or alleviate suffering.

Until policies regarding immigration and access to medical care are changed, organizations such as Puentes de Salud will remain the front lines of defense against disease and injury to the Latino community by providing treatment, education, and hope. Organizations like Puentes de Salud do not receive any government funding and are reliant on the donations of concerned citizens to continue providing much-needed services and resources to the immigrant community, making the support of sympathetic individuals essential in the fight to provide healthcare services to the immigrant community.




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