June 16, 2003
"Haitians are not used to thinking there's health care available," said Dr. Serena Koenig, medical director of Haiti Programs at Partners in Health. "They're used to thinking, 'If I don't work hard, my children are going to die,'" said Koenig, who has been working in Haiti for three years. Many of her patients come from a position where they might not trust doctors, she said. Only 5 percent of her patients have ever been to school, and only 1 percent have a concrete floor. There is one doctor for every 10,000 people in Haiti.
Most Haitians visit doctors only when there is an extreme medical emergency, said Dr. Roosevelt Clerisme, associate chair of psychiatry at Jamaica Hospital Medical Center in Queens and first vice president of the New York chapter of Haitian Physicians Abroad. "There is mistrust of health care workers in general," Clerisme said.
To reach Haitian patients, Clerisme and others said, it is necessary to take into consideration their possible fears of people who might be more formally educated than they are, or who are of a different race. In addition, he said, they advised health care professionals not to belittle a patient's desire to speak with a voodoo doctor or spiritual healer. "Voodoo is a big part of Haitian spirituality," Koenig said. "People can seek care from voodoo healers. It's fine; it doesn't interfere with your treatment."
Journal News (Westchester County, N.Y.)
06.12.03; Andrea Rubin
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