Roma and Health
I have been reminded lately about the conflict many of us have in regards to our health. My grandparents would never see a doctor, preferring traditional remedies, ritual, and “time”. My mother was so very skeptical of Western medicine, my father too – refusing to go unless it was serious. In fact, when I was a child they kept me from going unless absolutely necessary. One caveat to that, however, was that I was born with a genetic (congenital) heart defect and needed treatment and monitoring until I was 18. They agreed to that though, because my lips were blue, I was out of breath, and it was clear something was terribly wrong. But, when it came to colds, viruses, stomach bugs, stings, sprains and the like, traditional all the way.
Currently, I am facing major health concerns and I am receiving advice from both sides of the fence: traditional and non-traditional. I have people telling me I just need to do ritual cleansing or just do this and this or take these herbs or whatever; I also have people telling me I need serious medical treatment and long-term medication…
and I don’t know what to do. I don’t trust doctors and hospitals. I don’t trust medicine. I don’t trust such artificial things.
A report I found (linked in full here) states that “For many reasons, Romani women tend not to prioritise attention to their own health; at the same time they are often the primary caregivers in their families and communities”. Not only that, but it is the male head of the family who makes all of the decisions, and although my father passed, I still would not seek treatment independently.
Another report (here) also says that:
A large percentage of Roma conceive health as the absence of disease, and disease as an incapacitating phenomenon linked to death. This unique perspective on health and disease leads to several consequences:
- - Health only becomes a concern in the presence of very dramatic symptoms and incapacitating consequences thus making it difﬁcult to approach the concept of prevention.
- - Once the individual (and his family) perceive the presence of disease, action taken must be immediate and deﬁnitive in light of the direct relationship existing between disease and death.
- - The diagnosis is a matter of “putting a label on one’s afﬂiction.” Thus, the attitude adopted is ambivalent. Complete avoidance prevails in the absence of symptoms and incapacitating consequences (in these cases the diagnosis may be perceived as a manifestation of a disease that previously did not exist).
- - If symptoms disappear under treatment, all other therapeutic guidelines are generally ignored because from the perspective of this concept of health, the disease has vanished.
I definitely see myself doing this – without this current flare of symptoms, I would not be seeking treatment.
I think it’s more troublesome, however, for those who are limited in their access to health care and education. Without adequate access to preventative health care, Roma are suffering needlessly. Without access to health education women in particular are suffering. At the same time, poverty and ghettos don’t lead to ideal conditions to raise children. We aren’t suffering problems because (as certain ‘educated’ people think) we are inbred. NO! It is because we are forced to live in toxic conditions (on old waste dumps; in old factories; on lead-polluted land; in old buildings full of asbestos, lead, and black mold); without adequate running water, electricity, or food.
It makes me angry – that even those of us with access to healthcare are still reluctant to adequately take care of ourselves and provide a path for others to follow.