Why Middle Eastern, North African communities face barriers to health care

A new study from the University of Michigan’s Rogel Cancer Center finds that Metro Detroit’s Middle Eastern and North African communities face fear, discrimination and other significant barriers that impact their health.

The study shines a spotlight on the more than 200,000 people from Lebanon, Egypt, Syria, Iraq, Yemen and other Arab countries.

“Our goal really is to make people feel welcome, to kind of help them lead to the services that they really need to have to have a healthy life and build a healthy community,” said Madiha Tariq, MPH.

Tariq is the deputy director at ACCESS Community Health and Research Center. When people come to the clinic at ACCESS, it’s all about meeting their needs.

“It’s not just about someone having unfavorable health outcomes, it’s also about looking upstream to see what are the reasons behind them,” Tariq said.

The recent University of Michigan study is important for looking at the social factors that impact health. A large one is a fear of deportation and another is discrimination -- both keep them from using benefits available to them.

“This really happens because perceived discrimination, fear of deportation, mistrust of government,” Tariq said. “These are the kinds of things that can really deter people from utilizing services that are available to them to maintain a healthy lifestyle.”

The study questionnaire was handed out across the community at grocery stores, mosques and health clinics. 400 people responded.

About half did not believe the government was trying to improve life for Arab Americans.

“We generally found that this population faces more risk factors for health -- including food insecurity and unemployment and unstable housing, so having more of those types of social risk factors was linked with more chronic diseases,” said Dr. Minal R. Patel, MPH. “Including cancer, diabetes, high blood pressure, depression and heart conditions. Mental health and general health were also worse for people who face multiple societal conditions that limit optimal health.”

ACCESS said that’s why they act as a one-stop-shop to assess all the needs of the people it helps.

“There’s been many cases where we’ve had somebody come in and see the doctor and then realize that this person has been out of a job for six months, and they haven’t even gone to Michigan Works,” Tariq said. “We’ve had cases where people were in an unsafe situation at home. We have attorneys and therapists and caseworkers with our victims of crime program in the same building that can help them on the spot.”

Tariq said there’s a large part of the Middle East North African (MENA) community that struggles financially.

A big part of the problem is getting the right kind of help to the MENA community, which isn’t considered a minority by federal agencies.

READ MORE: Arab American Heritage Month stories


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