July 31, 2008

Health Advocates Sound Alarm for Haitian Women

By Georgia East, South Florida Sun-Sentinel

Jul. 31--MIAMI -- The numbers confirmed their fears.

Research released by the University of Miami on Wednesday showed that Haitian women in Little Haiti are far less likely to get a Pap smear compared with their black and white counterparts. According to the research led by Erin Kobetz, a professor at the University of Miami, only 44 percent of Haitians over the age of 18 in that community have had a Pap smear, compared with 84 percent of blacks and 84 percent of whites.

The findings point to a trend that experts think is indicative of how women are treating their health in other Haitian communities.

"When you have underserved and marginalized individuals with inadequate access, it's not shocking that those individuals would be screened in lower percentages than others," Kobetz said.

Pap smears are considered a critical test that can be used to detect cervical cancer. About a dozen health advocates discussed the research and debated possible solutions to the problem at a workshop at the university on Wednesday. Many said the numbers highlighted what they already knew through their work in the Haitian community.

"Culturally, many Haitians don't believe in preventive health," said Marlene Cesar, president of the Haitian American Nurses Association in South Florida. "They only go when they have a crisis."

According to the findings, economic and cultural barriers play a role in the lack of screening in the community. Lack of health insurance, a preference for more traditional healing methods and a distrust of Western medicine hinder some from getting necessary tests.

Immigration also is an issue. Community leaders said women who don't have legal status are often afraid to go to a doctor or hospital for screenings.

Community leaders suggested having health practitioners work closely with traditional healers, to spread the message about Pap smears and mammograms, advertising free screening and producing health manuals written for Haitian immigrants.

Pascale Auguste, project coordinator with the Haitian American Association Against Cancer in Miami, an organization that provides free screening in Miami and Broward, said it's crucial for information to be available in Haitian Creole.

"When you're working with the Haitian community, you have to bring it to them in their language," Auguste said.

Georgia East can be reached at or 954-356-4629.


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