American Community Survey of 2009 reports that 81 percent of people with Haitian ancestry who live in the United States and aged 5 years and above spoke a language other than English at home (Buchanan, Albert, Beaulieu, and U.S. Census Bureau. (2010). In terms of education, 18 percent of this population holds a bachelor’s degree while the male and female population holding bachelor’s degree is 28 percent and 27 percent respectively (Buchanan, Albert, Beaulieu and U.S. Census Bureau, 2010).
According to 2009 American Community Survey, the population of people of Haitian origin living in the United States was estimated to be 830,000 in 2009 (Buchanan, Albert, Beaulieu and U.S. Census Bureau, 2010). The survey further reports that the population has been growing steadily since the year 1990. Figure 1 shows the population trend of people of Haitian origin living in the United States since 1990. This population mainly inhabits five states. Figure 2 shows the distribution of the population with Haitian ancestry in the various states of the United States of America.
Majority of Haitians are Catholics. However, they also believe in the spiritual world hence practice Voodoo. Voodoo is believed to have originated from Africa and incorporated some beliefs of the native Indians who once lived in the Haitian Island before the Hispanic population arrived. According to Voodoo, the gods called Laos, occupy the highest position in the spiritual hierarchy. They also represent African ancestors’ spirits, the Biblical figures, as well as the spirits of the deceased members of the family. The Laos’ intervention is often sought in times of misfortune. The Haitians believe that the Laos’ power or action is manifested through people. In this case, they possess people and make them behave strangely. The Laos is served by Houngan and Mambo, the voodoo priest and priestess respectively. Haitians also believe that certain rituals must be performed for the Laos without which curses may befall the community. In this case, they believe that mental illnesses and poor physical health are caused by neglect of Laos through failure to undertake rituals.
The Haitians, especially those practicing Voodoo strongly believe that Laos determine many aspects of health. In particular, they believe that mental illnesses are mainly caused by the Laos as punishment for being neglected. They also believe that a psychotic break is caused by failure of the infected individual to undertake certain obligations, a curse, or failure to honor deceased family member’s spirits (Desrosiers and St. Fleurose, 2002). Most Haitians would also attribute a major depressive episode to a curse sent by a person who is jealous of the victim (Desrosiers and St. Fleurose, 2002). Usually, curses befall individuals with desirable attributes in the society such as intelligence and being wealthy. Consequently, people who suffer from conditions associated with a curse tend to think of themselves as having desirable attributes. Consequently, they recover relatively quicker (Desrosiers and St. Fleurose, 2002). Haitians also regard mental illnesses as special health cases since they are consequences of powerful forces. Consequently, much attention, protection, and care are given to individuals suffering from this condition. As a matter of fact, the Haitian laws protect the mentally ill patients in several ways.
For instance, the laws provide for denial of divorce sought by one partner if the other partner is mentally ill (Desrosiers and St. Fleurose, 2002). The influence of Voodoo is very strong among the Haitians of low socio-economic class. However, members of upper classes also partly believe in the religion and often consult the Laos before seeking professional treatment (Desrosiers and St. Fleurose, 2002).
Haitians believe that defects are caused by angry spirits sent by an enemy. They also regard genetic defects as a curse to the family. Consequently, care to the victims is usually given at home. In addition, the people suffering from genetic defects are sometimes hidden from society since the family members view them as the cause of shame to the family (Colin, 2010). Physical disability is also attributed to a supernatural force. Mothers who happen to give birth to disabled children usually feel very guilty (Colin, 2010). However, unlike defects, physical disability is not viewed as a source of shame to the family. Instead, disable people are loved, cared for, and not hidden from the society (Colin, 2010). Haitians also value the needs of sick people. For instance, they believe that a sick person should not attend to domestic chores. Instead, sick people should play a passive role while others attend to them.
In terms of nutritional practices, Haitians’ diet is mainly comprised of chicken, beans, rice, stewed vegetables, spicy meat with gravy, and plantain (Colin, 2010). They also drink homemade fruit juices and much water. In addition, Haitians are accustomed to taking coffee in the morning. Tea is only taken during sickness (Colin, 2010). However, Haitians do not consume yoghurt, runny egg yolks, or cottage cheese (Colin, 2010). They also have certain taboos and prescriptions related to food. For instance, they believe that one should not eat cold food after an activity that makes the body hot particularly strenuous activities for fear that the cold food would cause an imbalance (Colin, 2010). During sickness, recommended foods include oatmeal, vanilla flavoring, and a special soup of green vegetable plantain, cinnamon, an akasan, and a pinch of salt among others (Colin, 2010).
Some of the specific health and illness needs of the Haitian population living in the United States include HIV, tuberculosis, and infant mortality. According to a report by the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene released in 2006, Haitian population recorded the highest rates of new HIV diagnosis among foreign-born population living in New York (Frieden, 2006). In addition, mental illness is also highly prevalent among the population of Haitian origin living in the United States. The disease epidemiology among the Haitian population who live in the United States is not of much concern compared to access to healthcare. According to Metellus et al. (2004), only 52 percent of Haitians were insured by 2004. Language barrier is the major factor contributing to the Haitians’ difficulty to access healthcare services. Most immigrants fleeing to the United States have a low education level and can only speak creole fluently. Consequently, they are likely to suffer the consequences of the language barrier. Language barrier is the main reason most Haitians shy away from seeking insurance. Haitian Americans also face the challenge of failure to adhere to medication owing to the influence of cultural beliefs.
The Haitians rely on both traditional and professional health care providers for health needs. Both lower and upper socio-economic classes travel back to Haiti for medication first before seeking help from healthcare professionals (Desrosiers, and St. Fleurose, 2002). Indeed, in case of any illness, Haitians first seek the intervention of Laos through Houngan who perform and presides over rituals. The rituals are meant to appease either the spirits of the deceased members of the victim’s family or the Laos. Performance of rituals to owner the deceased is important for Haitians since it makes tem believe that the act sets them free from any punishment that might be meted out to them by angry spirits of the deceased family members.
Apart from performance of rituals, Haitians also carry out certain practices in a bid to manage health concerns. For instance, Haitians treat constipation with laxatives or some herbal teas (Colin, 2010). Currently, most Haitian immigrants are getting insurance hence able to access healthcare services from the mainstream healthcare delivery system. However, at the onset of a disease, the travel back home for treatment which mainly involves rituals. If their condition fails to improve, they resort to healthcare facilities for further assistance.
The dominant health practices of Haitians are related to their food practices and preventive and curative approaches to health. In terms of food practices, Haitians group food into the following categories: cold, hot, acid, non-acid, light, and heavy. Foods belonging to all these groups must be included in the diet in perfect balance in order to prevent diseases and illnesses. Haitians also recommend the consumption of food with the opposite property to the illness one is suffering from. In other words, diet forms an integral aspect of healthcare practices of the community. In addition, traditional health practices are highly embraced by the community. Therefore, Haitians agree with the mainstream healthcare system in that they both recognize the role of nutrition in health. However, healthcare practices among the Haitians and healthcare delivery system differ in the sense that unlike Haitians’ reliance on divine intervention, healthcare systems rely purely on science (Potter and Perry, 2009).
Figure 1: The Trend of Population with Haitian Ancestry in the United States Since 1990
Source: Buchanan, A. B., Albert, N. G., Beaulieu, D., & U.S. Census Bureau. (2010).
Figure 2: Distribution of the Population with Haitian Ancestry in the United States.
Source: Buchanan, A. B., Albert, N. G., Beaulieu, D., & U.S. Census Bureau. (2010).
ReferenceTop of Form
Buchanan, A. B., Albert, N. G., Beaulieu, D., & U.S. Census Bureau. (2010). The population with Haitian ancestry in the United States: 2009. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Dept. of Commerce, Economics and Statistics Administration, U.S. Census Bureau.
Colin, J. M. (2010). Cultural and clinical care for Haitians.
DeLaune, S., & Ladner, P. (2010). Fundamentals of nursing. Cengage Learning.
Desrosiers, A., & St. Fleurose, S. (2002). Treating Haitian Patients: Key Cultural Aspects. American Journal Of Psychotherapy, 56(4), 508
Frieden T.R. (2006). The Health of Immigrants in New York City. New York City: Dept. of Health and Mental Hygiene.
Metellus, G. M., Community Voices Miami (Project), Little Haiti Community Collaborative (Miami, Fla.), & Haitian Neighborhood Center, Sant La (Miami, Fla.). (2004). Health care needs and issues in Little Haiti: A Community Voices project report. Miami, Fla: Little Haiti Community Collaborative, Haitian Neighborhood Center, Sant La.
Potter, P. A., & Perry, A. G. (2009). Fundamentals of nursing. St. Louis, Mo: Mosby Elsevier.