Free «Ethnicity: How African Americans in the USA Respond to Health Care» Essay Sample

Ethnicity: How African Americans in the USA Respond to Health Care


Various researches have indicated the existence of ethnic disparities in the medical care system of the USA. Amid the advancement in technology in the medical care, the ancient systems of healing have continued to exist in the USA, especially among the ethnic group of African Americans. The aim of this paper is to examine how African Americans in the USA respond to health care and the barriers as well as stigma associated with health care delivery.

Non-Western Medical Practices Associated with Diverse Groups

Many African Americans, especially the older generation of African Americans, have continued to embrace the African traditional medical practices. These practices are promoted by the traditional health practitioners, whereby they diagnose, treat, and adopt preventive measures for diverse ailments. These types of the non-western, or complementary, medical practices and health care comprise the distinct medical systems as well as practices that are deemed as not being a part of the conventional medicine. The non-western medical practices are composed of five domains, namely mind-body interventions, alternative medical systems, body-based practices, biological treatments, and manipulative care. The basic philosophy of alternative and complementary medicine is inclusive of holistic care that deals with the treatment of an individual as a whole being. For instance, the African traditional medicine has claimed the ability to cure various conditions such as cancer, infertility, cholera, and HIV/AIDs among other diseases.

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The belief among African Americans is that their non-western medicine incorporates distinct persons, including herbalists, midwives, and diviners. The diviners’ work is to determine the cause of a disease, which is sometimes affiliated with ancestral spirits. On the other hand, midwives use various indigenous medical plants to help in childbirth. For example, pygeum (Prunus Africana), which is an African medicinal cure, has gained popularity in America in the treatment of benign prostatic hyperplasia (Lawton 76). This comes amidst protests by the Future Harvest Group, which is based in Washington, and its concern that the increased demand for the wild African plants greatly endangers the local plant population.

Compromise of the Delivery of Health Care

The various beliefs among the African American ethnic group compromise the delivery of health care because it is inappropriate for many conditions. It is a fact that the modern western medicine treats serious and sudden diseases and accidents more effectively as compared to the non-western medicines. The non-western medicine cannot treat a broken leg, appendicitis or a heart attack effectively as a western medicine. People risk harming themselves by using herbs as medications, for example. Although this same thing can happen with traditional medications, when one can accidentally overdose, many African Americans practicing informal medical care do not have package inserts and instructions that come with non-western medications. The lack of accredited scientific expertise poses a major risk in non-western medicines (Grol et al. 103). For instance, medicines extracted from wild herbs may be associated with poison; since there no laboratory tests are carried out to confirm their viability, such medications could endanger the life of the users. Thus, herbalists risk greatly if the herb is not correctly identified or if they use the wrong part of the plant. In addition, there is a great danger because of the lack of regulations in the use of the informal medical practices because they are not tightly regulated by the law.


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Stigmas Associated with Health Care Provision

African Americans are associated with various stigmas regarding their non-western medical care that conveys the aspect of irrationality and baseless scientific methods in academics. Stigmas, in this case, exist in many forms and they are ideal in the functioning of African Americans in society. For instance, there exists the myth about HIV/AIDS and the resulting stigmatization. Despite of advancement in science and modern medicine, which results in improved therapy, the issue of HIV/AIDS has remained a real problem as pointed out by Lawton (80). This happens because of the stigmatization and the perpetuation of myth relating to the means of contraction and cure. For example, there is a myth originated from South Africa where it is believed that engaging in sex with a virgin cures the HIV infection. By the virtue of African Americans pursuing such myths, it is not attributed to the viability of the idea or lack of information but rather because of the desperation and stigmatization that is brought by the people living under this condition. The vulnerability and associated stigmas are linked to inequalities and stereotypes that include such aspects as poverty, ethnicity, and inequalities between men and women.

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Barriers that Prevent African Americans from Receiving Appropriate Health Care

The African American minority patients are confronted by barriers in health care services use. Caregivers are oblivious to these barriers, although sometimes, they may share the responsibility burden with them. Language and culture are not the only factors that might act as the barriers. If the expectations or the health beliefs of the patients are not the same as what the caregiver provides them with, there will be barriers in the health care services. If the result is not the same as the treatment that the patient has received, there will be a barrier (Wensing and Davis 112). The limitation of Africans from speaking the local language spoken in the USA can prevent patients from having an adequate communication with their physicians.

Values Presented within Diversity

The aspect of diversity among African Americans present in the consumption of the non-western medicine contributes towards a common practice in various sectors of the African American population. Indeed, this kind of medical practice is not a reserve for the poor, uneducated people living in the rural areas (Ferguson 43). This kind of medicine is rather valuable as it is based on skills, knowledge, and practices of theory and beliefs of the different cultures. Although there are diverse systems adopted by African Americans, the practices of each case are determined by the existing factors, including the environment and geographic zone. Moreover, the non-western medicine is usually more affordable and it corresponds with the ideologies of the target patient. Ferguson argues that the value attached to non-western medical practices is that its remedy increases even as modern medicine becomes less effective in the treatment of certain diseases such as advanced cancer and the new infectious diseases (43). In fact, African Americans consider their medical practices as natural and safe mostly. In other words, they are less toxic than traditional medications. Another form of non-western medicines is the herbal medicine that is sold as a food supplement amid the non-existence of a regulatory framework in different countries. Consequently, the information regarding clinical indications for use, efficacy, and safety is determined by the traditional encounters present at every place. The USA recognizes the Dietary Supplementary Health and Education Act (DSHEA), whereby all herbs and natural concentrates are recognized as dietary supplements. As outlined in DSHEA, all non-western medicines that have been classified as dietary supplements are deemed safe and they must not pass the authority of Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for efficacy and safety.

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Population and Levels of Income

African Americans comprise approximately 12.2% of the population in the United States. According to the U.S Census Bureau in 2014, there were 12.7% of uninsured African Americans, which was an improvement from the previous year 2013 that stood at 17.2%. Generally, in the United States, it is estimated that 158 million people use contemporary medicine of different forms. Furthermore, the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine indicates that 36% of Americans (Census Bureau 21) have adopted a type of alternative therapy, including non-western (18.9%) medicine within the past year. According to the Census Bureau, the median household income for African Americans is $35,000 per annum (21).


The non-western medicines have received great amount of criticism and praise in equal measures. In the traditional African setting, diseases are perceived as a misalignment of spiritual disorders. For this reason, various forms of treatments are adopted, including herbalism and dietary supplements. However, despite the various forms of stigma and diversity in health care provision, non-western medicines remain a crucial entity for many African Americans.

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