refugees in America face a shortage of culturally competent medical care, and
some, particularly those uprooted by wars in Iraq, lack access to any health
care, according to a Yale anthropologist.
Marcia Inhorn, PhD, William K. Lanman Jr. Professor of
Anthropology and International Affairs, says more research is needed on the
health impact violent conflict and more needs to be done to address health
disparities and reproductive health issues in refugee communities. Many Iraqi women and men have reproductive health
issues. "Arab refugee men suffer
from severe infertility, which we believe maybe related to the stresses and
toxins of war," she said, adding that Iraqi and international media have been reporting
what appears to be an increase in birth defects in Iraqi children. "Many refugees who
lost everything have dreams of family, marriage and parenthood as a way of
achieving their gender and family identity, and many want to recreate family
lineages that have been destroyed by war."
scholarship has focused on gender, health and reproductive issues among Muslin
men and women in the Middle East and the U.S., described some
of her findings at the Unite for Sight conference at Yale University in her
presentation "Reproductive Refugees: Health Disparities and Diasporic Dreams in Post 9/11 Arab America."
The Middle East,
where 15 of 22 countries have suffered protracted violence, has the highest
number of displaced persons in the world, Inhorn said.
Since the first
Iraq wars in 1991-1992, nearly 150,000 Iraqi nationals resettled in the U.S.,
she said, many in economically depressed Detroit and Dearborn, Michigan, where
refugee Iraqis and recent immigrants from Afghanistan have an unemployment rate
three times the national average. "Parts of Detroit look worse than Lebanon, with burned
buildings, vacant lots, crumbling infrastructure," observed Inhorn, who has
lived and worked in Mid-East war zones.
Because having children is part
of a Muslim cultural mandate for adult personhood, she explained, infertility
is a source of stigma and suffering for men and women. Poverty, lack of health insurance,
widespread anti-immigrant sentiment and language barriers make routine health
care inaccessible, she said, and expensive assisted reproductive technologies
are unaffordable. She believes
infertility should be a family planning issue and part of available health
Inhorn said the
plight of this community worsened after 9/11. "Muslims are vilified. Arab Muslim men are viewed as dangerous,
untrustworthy, violence prone and religiously fanatical," she said, alluding to
what she called an American paradox. "The reason they are here is the American
initiated wars in their home countries. After they helped us in these wars,
they come here to find themselves unwelcome and facing increasing incidents of
particular fear returning home because of ongoing political violence," she
said, "and the once-fine Iraqi health care system is completely
shattered." She added that the
Muslim refugee population could be described as stranded in Michigan, with
little hope of finding affordable health care.
In addition to
Michigan, other states with large Arab and Muslim populations include
California, New York, New Jersey, and Florida. The U.S. Refugee Admission Program has recently been
relocating new refugees to New Haven. Inhorn suggests that the interlocking relationships of
attitudes toward ethnicity, gender, appearance, race, and religion that act
synergistically to generate discrimination and systematic forms of oppression
need to be fully examined.
on Arab-Muslim refugee health in America, co-authored with Gomal Serour, is
published in The Lancet. She also published extensively on gender,
health, religious, medical and bioethical issues in the Middle East.