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Home / News / The Coeur d’Alene Press – Food and Health, For Some Refugees, Women’s Health Care Is A Culture Shock

The Coeur d’Alene Press – Food and Health, For Some Refugees, Women’s Health Care Is A Culture Shock

BUFFALO, N.Y. — Dinnertime is nearing, and the kitchen on this tidy house is buzzing. Lamyaa Manty, a 29-year-previous Iraqi refugee, wears a neon-pink T-shirt and stirs an enormous pot of eggplant, onion, potatoes and tomatoes on the range, a staple of Iraqi cooking referred to as tepsi.

Spinning round with a butterfly internet in her hand and dancing to Arabic music is Fatima Abdullah, an exuberant 9-yr-previous.

At the middle of the exercise is Fatima’s aunt, Salima Abdullah Khalifa, a burgundy-haired matriarch from Baghdad, who pours Pepsi into small glasses on the desk.

This is a discovered household. Manty was Khalifa’s neighbor in Baghdad. When Manty misplaced her whole household, Khalifa took care of her. The two spent 5 years collectively in Jordan, ready for his or her refugee purposes to be processed.

Khalifa’s husband, brother and three sons have been killed in Iraq, and restarting life in Buffalo, on the shores of Lake Erie, with such profound ache in her coronary heart has been making an attempt. Certain American customs bewilder her. When it involves health care, Khalifa was startled to seek out that male docs within the U.S. look at women and that she is meant to get a checkup on the clinic even when she just isn’t sick.

“We don’t have main [care] physician in my nation,” stated Walaa Kadhum, a fellow refugee and Khalifa’s good friend who helps translate. In Iraq, the women say, solely the very sick or the very wealthy acquired medical remedy. But right here within the United States, they’ve main care docs and get annual checkups.

Perhaps probably the most distressing of these checkups for a lot of conservative Muslim women is a Pap smear, a screening check for cervical most cancers. The check is uncommon within the creating world, in accordance with international health specialists, and for conventional Muslim women, like Manty, who’re anticipated to be virgins till they marry, the invasive process is a profound menace.

“If she’s not a virgin, she will’t marry,” defined Kadhum. “They say, ‘This is a nasty woman. We can’t marry you. Until she [is] married, no one [touches] her.”

Manty stated if she doesn’t marry, she is going to by no means get examined for cervical most cancers or have a vaginal examination. Khalifa, now 51, had her first examination at 45, when she resettled in Buffalo.

Physicians who deal with refugee women say it’s not unusual to seek out undiagnosed cervical most cancers, sexually transmitted illnesses or persistent pelvic ache.

Dr. Magda Osman, an obstetrician and gynecologist on the Buffalo Medical Group who’s initially from Egypt, stated lots of her refugee sufferers ultimately comply with a Pap check as soon as they perceive the health advantages. But for women who nonetheless object, she tries to elucidate that Islam doesn’t forestall them from taking good care of their health.

“A lot of cultural issues will not be spiritual issues however they’re so ingrained in folks that they don’t know the distinction,” stated Osman.

The single women she sees typically worry a Pap check will break their hymen, which may be very problematic for a younger lady if it calls her virginity into query. But it may be a strict tradition — not the Quran — implementing that concept, Osman stated.

“A sure proportion of women won’t bleed on the primary time they’re sexually lively,” she stated. “But in the event you go to many cultures around the globe, if there isn’t any blood then that lady is ostracized. But that’s not faith.”

At the Jericho Road health clinic in Buffalo, the employees is properly-versed in these cultural beliefs. Heidi Nowak, a household nurse practitioner, stated she doesn’t push sufferers to violate their beliefs, however she is going to advocate for his or her health.

The stereotype that conventional Muslim women who cowl themselves are meek is a fantasy, Nowak stated. Her feminine Muslim sufferers are assertive and lots of them have questions on intercourse, she stated.

“Some of the younger Iraqi women will come to me. They’re planning to get married in two months, and they need to be ready, in order that they’ll ask me questions on it,” she stated. “’What does intercourse really feel like? How does it work?’ Or I’ll have them come to me after and say, ‘It was horrible.’”

One of the most important challenges serving strict Muslim refugee women, stated Nowak, is their reticence — or outright refusal — to be seen by a male physician.

Not removed from the clinic, Kuresha Noor, a caseworker for Journey’s End Refugee Services, a resettlement company, visits the house of a Somali mom and her three youngsters who resettled in Buffalo earlier this yr.

The women, coated in conventional Somali robes and headscarves referred to as garbasaars, sit on the sofa within the threadbare house. The caseworker and her shopper are each pregnant and neither lady needs any male physicians to maintain them or attend their deliveries.

Americans appear to have a tough time understanding why many conservative Muslim women have a choice for feminine docs, Noor stated.

“They’re not conscious of it,” she stated of Americans. In her tradition, she stated, no man besides her husband can take a look at her. If he did, she stated, it might be as if “I’m not an excellent spouse, like I’m not respecting his rights as a person. That’s what I really feel.”

Doctors in Buffalo say the prohibition towards male docs has led to some harrowing moments within the supply room — couples who refused to consent to male obstetricians, even throughout an emergency.

Fatuma Abdi Noor, the newly arrived pregnant mom from Somali, stated her faith does permit a male physician to assist her in an emergency.

“It’s not a sin. God is aware of you didn’t do it on function,” she stated. “You gained’t really feel disgrace or sinned, as a result of God was all the time there and is aware of what’s in your coronary heart.”

She was in a refugee camp in Kenya with little medical care throughout her previous pregnancies. Now, within the U.S., she welcomes prenatal checkups, even when her tradition and faith collide with some health care practices.

“It provides me peace,” she stated, “as a result of I do know the infant is wholesome.”

KHN’s protection of women’s health care issues is supported partially by The David and Lucile Packard Foundation.


Kaiser Health News (KHN) is a nationwide health coverage information service. It is an editorially unbiased program of the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation.


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