Overcoming Healthcare Barriers for Eritrean and Ethiopian Women

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Over 60 people attended the first Habesha Women’s Health Expo (HWHE) last weekend at the African American Art & Culture Complex, an event designed to raise awareness in the Eritrean and Ethiopian community about healthy living.

The groundbreaking event was organized by and for women in the Habesha community, a term that refers to anyone from Ethiopia or Eritrea, and featured doctors of Habesha background who gave health seminars on breast cancer, sexually transmitted diseases, mental health, nutrition and pharmacy information.

The presentations were in both English and Tigrinya, a language spoken mainly in Eritrea. Translated health informational packets were also available.

Event organizer Almaz Nigusse said the group hopes to host another health expo later in the year that is translated in Amharic, a mainly Ethiopian language. A social worker and mental health therapist, Nigusse has yet to have a Habesha client.

She says it is difficult to give people facts about the health concerns of Habesha women when no concrete research has been done to address their issues.

“When I would take my mother to the doctor, I noticed that she would shy away from fully disclosing her health concerns, partly because of the language barrier and not feeling comfortable speaking to a non-Habesha doctor,” said Nigusse. “I had to be there to translate the conversation. In many cases, trust, cultural differences, and a lack of understanding stop Habesha women from asking questions.”

During a break in the event, free lunch was provided. A nurse checked vital signs check, and massages were available throughout the day. Financial support for the event was provided by San Francisco Mental Health Education Fund.

Members of the audience praised the committee members for their efforts to bring awareness of health concerns to a community that is often overlooked due to language barriers and cultural differences.

“Thank you for providing a stage where the women of our community felt safe enough to be vulnerable and share personal stories about their physical and mental illness,” said Luwam Ghebreab, a local resident. “It is encouraging to see how we as a community are finally talking about mental health openly and freely without fear of being judged.”

A presentation on mental health by the committee resonated with the audience when they shared experiences dealing with stress and other factors, such as immigrating to the Unites States and the struggle of finding balance between traditional values and western traditions.

“We wanted to normalize for everyone learning about health services as well as talking about the struggle of being an immigrant,” said Nigusse. “Mental health is a topic that isn’t usually discussed in the community, which is a big problem because many Habesha women may experience Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, whether it was from fleeing civil wars or losing loved ones.”

For more information, visit www.habeshahealth.com or email [email protected]

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