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Public Health Rep. 1992 Sep-Oct;107(5):544-8.

Cultural barriers to health care for southeast Asian refugees.

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Asian American Studies Department, California State University, Northridge 91330.


Many Southeast Asians now living in the United States experience severe health problems, attributable to physical trauma and inadequate health care in Asia, and low socioeconomic status in this country. Evidence indicates that despite their health problems, Southeast Asian refugees underuse the American health care system. Cultural reasons for this underuse are examined. Southeast Asian cultural attitudes toward suffering, such as beliefs that suffering is inevitable or that one's life span is predetermined, can cause Southeast Asians not to seek health care. Cultural beliefs about the sources of illness and correspondingly appropriate forms of treatment can be a barrier to Western health care. Many lack familiarity with Western diagnostic techniques and treatments and thus are apprehensive. Health care providers' ignorance of Southeast Asian cultures can interfere with communication with patients, resulting in culturally irrelevant services or misinterpretation of side effects of Southeast Asian folk medicines. Southeast Asians' lack of familiarity with American culture can make health care services geographically and economically inaccessible and can cause Southeast Asians to be ignorant of available services or how to access them. An understanding of Southeast Asian cultures and additional outreach efforts by Western medical practitioners and health care providers are needed to improve the use of health care services by Southeast Asian refugees in this country.

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