Cultural Competency and Haitian Immigrants


Health Care Practices ... page 1

Purnell's Model

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Family roles & organization
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Workforce issues

Biocultural ecology

High-risk behaviors

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Death rituals

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Health care practices
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Health care practitioners




  • Haitians are very private and modest. Care needs to be taken to ensure that procedures that require undress are adequately explained. If possible, undress only the area that needs to be examined.29, 55

  • Since a majority of Haitians practice voodoo to some extent, it plays a significant part in the health care orientation of the population. Illnesses are thought to have either natural or supernatural causes.

    • Natural illnesses occur because of an imbalance with nature. For example if the previously mentioned “hot” and “cold” equilibrium (see nutrition) is disturbed, the result would be a natural illness. Natural illnesses are believed to be of short duration.26, 28, 29, 30, 31, 32, 35, 36, 52, 56, 58, 61   

    • Supernatural illnesses are caused by God or the loas and usually appear suddenly, without any warning.26, 28, 29, 30, 31, 35, 36, 52, 56, 58, 61 

    • Natural illnesses can also be caused by sympathetic magic. In this category are illnesses caused by voodoo dolls,  and magicoreligious beliefs such as the belief that keeping a knife under the bed will cut labor pain.35

  • The practitioner that is sought for care depends on the cause of the illness (See health care practitioners).26, 28, 58, 61

  • Haitians from the city and those from rural Haiti often have different ideas about disease and illness. The urban migrants tend to be more receptive of  modern medical care, while the rural migrants tend to be more receptive to traditional medical care.31

  • Traditionally, Haitians only think they are sick if the illness interferes with their ability to work. Thus, they seek biomedical health care late in the illness.31, 32, 37, 51, 52, 58

  • Home remedies are used first before seeking help, and may include herbal preparations, massage, or over the counter medications.29, 30, 32, 33, 36, 51, 52, 58, 62 The use of herbal medicine is passed on by the family and sometimes Haitians in the U.S. will even have ingredients sent from Haiti to make herbal preparations.52

  • The notion of seeing a physician for prevention may not occur to a Haitian.36, 42 

  • Since pregnancy is not an illness some Haitians may not see the importance of prenatal care.29, 30, 55, 56 

  • When a Haitian decides the illness warrants a doctor's visit, the doctor is usually someone he/she knows or has heard about from a friend, someone that is considered trustworthy.32, 52


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