Today’s New York Times headline article highlights the ongoing health care disparities within the migrant farmworker population. Clearly, health care coverage and access is a larger discourse in national politics, but one might just as easily overlook the physical health of the laborers working in our agricultural fields.
The people need help because they are in the United States illegally and because they are poor. Few have health insurance, but the backbreaking nature of their work, along with the toxicity of American poverty, insure that many are ailing.
They may visit a clinic or hospital if they are severely ill. But for many undocumented immigrants, much of their health care is provided by a parallel system of spiritual healers, home remedies and self-medication.
Data from National Argricultural Worker Survey further illustrates the ongoing health disparities and explains that 70% of farmworkers do not have health insurance. As a result, there is a reliance on non-conventional and traditional remedies. Ultimately these medical alternatives are not sufficient on their own. The NYT article focuses on this issue, tracking the work of a spiritual healer (curandera).
Women make up 19% of the farmworker community, and face very particular challenges to their health caused by the labor. They are frequently impacted by occupational health hazards (i.e. overt sun exposure, pesticides and other toxic substances) that directly impact their reproductive health.
Traditional remedies cannot be the only option for immigrants in the United States. While Western medicine could increase its culturally competency by incorporating these non-conventional methods and perspectives, all people in the United States deserve the right to the same standard of health care. Fortunately, organizations like Farmworker Justice and Migrant Clinicians Network frequently acknowledge the severity of this dilemma. Spread the word and spread awareness.
For more on the reproductive health of migrant farmworkers, check out this fact sheet.
–Edith Gonzalez Flores