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Cultural Barriers to Accessing Health Care » Women's Courage

Cultural Barriers to Accessing Health Care

February 28th, 2013 by burnett3 Leave a reply »

Women in Middle Eastern countries face an unusual cultural barrier to accessing healthcare. Often times the infrastructure and services can be available but women don’t use them. What is holding them back? This is a phenomenon studied in Muslim countries and in Muslim immigrant population in the US. Muslim women are often uncomfortable with US doctors and practices because they are not sensitive to their highly conservative and gender sensitive culture. Dr. Naureen Zafar, the director of the Medina Clinic at Harlem Hospital Center, said, “research has shown many devout Muslim women delay accessing health care and may have very advanced disease by the time they seek medical help”(1). Since the recognition of these cultural barriers, US doctors have started to accommodate to their patient needs to increase patient comfort levels.

A lot of comfort and trust in doctor patient relationships comes from having a doctor of the same sex. In a study of patients’ satisfaction in government hospitals in Jordan, 56 percent of women said they preferred female doctors (2). Dr Padela is a researcher on Islamic medical ethics and explains, “Though Muslims differ in their adherence to tradition, maintaining modesty is the ‘overarching Islamic ethic’ pertaining to interaction between the sexes”(1). Women often refuse to be in a room alone or examined by a male doctor. In the US this can sometimes be accommodated for by switching to a female doctor but is not always a possibility. Increasing the number of female doctors available in the Middle East could alleviate some of the anxiety about going to see a male doctor.

Another obstacle is the lack of independence. In countries such as Libya women are not allowed to travel without a male relative. For low-income families it may be too expensive to send two people to travel to a hospital and this can prevent adequate treatment for women (3). There are many cultural barriers and sensitivities that we need to be aware of when discussing access to health care, it is not solely a problem of economic ability and spread of technology. Reference 4 is an interesting article written for American clinicians working in the Middle East and talks about many of the cultural sensitivities that need to be addressed.

(1) http://www.nytimes.com/2010/11/01/health/01patients.html (2)http://www.prb.org/Articles/2006/GenderandEquityinAccesstoHealthCareServicesintheMiddleEastandNorthAfrica.aspx

(3) http://www.yalemedlaw.com/2011/04/gender-in-middle-eastern-health-care/

(4) http://repository.upenn.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1000&context=nrs&sei-redir=1&referer=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.google.com%2Furl%3Fsa%3Dt%26rct%3Dj%26q%3Dwomens%2520healh%2520care%2520in%2520middle%2520east%26source%3Dweb%26cd%3D6%26ved%3D0CGUQFjAF%26url%3Dhttp%253A%252F%252Frepository.upenn.edu%252Fcgi%252Fviewcontent.cgi%253Farticle%253D1000%2526context%253Dnrs%26ei%3DPEQwUc6lFLGujAKljoH4BQ%26usg%3DAFQjCNFZw2lDWTt_8RdVaVH59G4XjguVfg%26bvm%3Dbv.43148975%2Cd.cGE#search=%22womens%20healh%20care%20middle%20east%22



  1. Katie says:

    I’m glad you addresses this idea because it’s definitely important and something that can be easily overlooked. A few weeks ago when I was blogging about cervical cancer I remember reading that many women are wary of seeking help because just thinking about, let alone talking about the cervix was such a private issues. Moreover, many husbands wouldn’t let their wives go see a doctor for this reason, meaning they presented with almost incurable late stage disease. The problem also seems to be multifaceted and self-perpetuating because of the lack of medical training available for women versus men in developing countries.

  2. Michelle says:

    Thanks for an interesting blog on cross-cultural issues in medicine! I think that doctors everywhere should be trained to become more culturally sensitive and aware to make their patients feel comfortable. As for access to the doctors, I think you should look into physician outreach in the middle east because I’m sure there are at least a few doctors that make sure to reach rural patients.

  3. Christina says:

    Casey, this is a really interesting topic. Thanks for sharing! I remember reading in Anne’s book that in some countries, women have no say over what medical operations are done on them and that it is up to their husband. Moreover, their husbands may prevent them from visiting doctors due to the fact that the doctors are oftentimes male. This is also a really important factor for doctors to keep in mind and I am curious to learn what kind of intervention strategies are available to try to lessen such cultural boundaries.

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