Roma and Health

Nov 30, 2012 by

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.



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  1. Dr Vladimír Horváth is a cardiothoracic surgeon in Brno. Dr Olga Rostášová is a diabetes specialist in Jirkov. There are literally dozens of health professionals in the Czech Repubublic who are Rromani. Yet, the survival strategy of avoidance of “artificial” gadje medicine persists there, and in Poland, where we could not find ONE medical professional. There, it also is a taboo to seek redress in a gadje court of law. These aspects of orthodox romipen I must respect. But this also is the 21st Century. Although I haven’t visited a doctor in a very long time, my mother would not be alive today without her cardiologist. I wish you courage to seek competent attention, Qristina.

  2. I’ve had both views in my family, held by Romani and gádže alike. I do see merits on both sides of the issue, but I’ve chosen — as an adult — to combine the approaches whenever possible; by excluding neither traditional, herbal medicines nor modern western medicines. In my own opinion, not worth much in my own opinion, combining methods seems to have worked well for me, so far.
    My gádži grandmother was very much opposed to modern medicine. She refused even Tylenol for headaches, and believed in waiting out illnesses; this is how she died. After waiting nearly 8 months to see a conventional western physician for new-onset back pain, tests showed that what would have been a tumor that was, as tumors go, fairly easy to *cure*, not even needing chemotherapy, instead had metastasized to other organs.
    So, a lesson to me — out wait colds, simple stings or insect bites, sprains, and treat what I know I can on my own — but anything unusual or persistent and I rely on western docs for that.
    The living conditions forced onto Roma families, the toxic wastes, the mold, mildew, bacteria, seem like they’ll only exacerbate pre-existing problems with many Romani who need care, but don’t ( or can’t ) seek it.

  3. Kristen

    I spent many years going traditional, it generally worked- antibiotic once every few years. I believe in traditional stuff, from meditation, herbs, exercise, chiropractor, diet, etc. But them I was in a bad accident and my hand was amputated, so yay Western medicine. I didn’t die, and my hand was replanted. Imperfect, but I have it, mainly from all the access to resources the hospital had. Sometimes whatever works is okay. Cause God made scientists, inspired them, who created a lot of live saving medicine and practices; if religion is part of the issue. Do your research, ask others who they had positive experiences with doctors, see what the options are. Lots of times people get the heavy duty and then natural helps continue the healing. Or complimentary. Do you live near a teaching/research hospital, sometimes they have cool, cooperating departments. I will be thinking of you and hoping for the best.

  4. Dear Qristina,

    My name is Elez Bislim from Macedonia-Skopje most of the people knows me as jonny at moment i live in Brazil-São Paulo.

    O was reasearch the Rroma life why they die so early then the other in world,

    I find that has lot reason why: Bad live condition, no property food,no medical documents,not going on the time at the doctoers , no trust on the doctors, Rroma woman never has at the hospital child bird.When i was child i was normal but at my 5 year old i got child paralize and now im dissibilities ,my left leg is short for 8cm from right even im not trust them so much but i need them to see my healyh how is.

    Have same things as you.Most of our Rroma never going at the doctor because theu do home medicine.for that reason they die so young like abroximily the Rroma life is from 50 to 55 year .


  5. Qristina-i am a friend of Chad’s and have been following your posts etc. i am also an author working on a new book about 4 generations of women (from 1863/olga Kobylankia/writer and “Gypsy lover”/ostracized to her protégée in 1939\your Roma girl/buckovina to 1977/roma daughter in Chernivitsi to PRESENT/an adopted American, modern medical student who discovers she is Roma. Hence i write to you with much understanding developing from this young women who will try to combine the traditions and remedies of her people with modern medicine. Pls friend me or something like that. I am not good with FB but can relate deeply with your comments and life. Sincerely.

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