Swiveling on a stool behind the wood counter at the hair salon
she works, Leandra Stewart pats her flat belly. For the last few
years she has had cramping near her naval during her menstrual
cycle, and it has only gotten worse in recent months.
If only she had had regular checkups when she arrived from
seven years ago, she said, she might be diagnosed by now. But
at 29 with no health insurance, she had more pressing issues to
with. Steward visited a gynecologist in the United States for the first
last month and is now awaiting the results of blood tests.
"I didn't have the option to go to the doctor as soon as I came."
she said. "My pain had gotten worse, but you have to pay that fee
and I didn't have money at the time."
A new study shows that recent immigrant women are 24 percent less
likely to get a gynecological checkup than women born in the
United States. And according to the Cancer Awareness Network for
Immigration Minority Populations, English-speaking Caribbean
in Brooklyn are more likely to be diagnosed with advanced stages
cervical cancer than black women born in the United States. Because a
portion of the foreign born population in Prospect Heights is
the Caribbean, health is a major concern for these women. By their
admission and physician observation, a lack of funds and
cultural barriers prevent them from getting checkups.
Prospect Heights sits in community district eight where,
the 2000 U.S. census, 71 percent of the foreign born population
from the Caribbean, mostly from Trinidad, Tobago and Jamaica.
Dr. Desmond Browne, who emigrated from St. Vincent 20 years ago,
one of the only family medical practices in the neighborhood. Dr.
Browne said that many of the recently immigrated Caribbean women
who have come to his office say they have never had a pap smear,
most likely because they have limited access to insurance and
are uneasy in the new and unfamiliar setting.
Last year, a woman came into his office with her husband, who,
Browne said, acted like a dictator, telling the doctor where his
wife was hurting. Dr. Browne was unable to make a diagnosis
because it was unclear whether the wife was telling her husband
"You really need to get it from the right source," he said.
"Obviously these are very smart women, but they have a slightly
reduced exposure to these things in their communities."
A recent study, conducted in 2006 by UICC World Cancer Congress,
Washington DC, said that the disparity in gynecological checkups
possibly due to lack of acculturation. Dr. Browne agrees. He said
women immigrants are usually the last in the family to adjust to
their new lives. While they are at home, children are learning
about American culture at school and husbands are assimilating at
work. However, the Cancer Awareness Network suggested that a
these women are slow to get checkups is not that they are
at home. It is that they lack the time for checkups because they
are busy managing their work and family.
Many of the women interviewed said that when they arrived they
simply had a lot on their minds. Stewart said she found it
impossible to obtain working papers. And as an illegal immigrant
without those papers, she could not get health insurance.
Dr. Browne said he works with medical labs that are willing to
their prices when patients do not have insurance. Usually he can
labs to do tests for about $150 and he will only charge $40 to
per visit, which comes to about half of the usual price of $80.
There are no free clinics in the neighborhood, but in neighboring
Crown Heights, the Community Healthcare Network runs a center
geared toward the Caribbean population. It is called the
House Health Center. However, many women are unaware that these
services exist, or do not know how to locate them.
"We do not turn anyone away," said center director, Joy Drummond.
"We accept everyone, but most of the patients we see are West
Some women in the neighborhood said that they have made emergency
visits to hospitals. However, many fail to get a complete exam.
Ena Jackson, 57, cook at The Jamaican Bakery in Prospect Heights,
who arrived from Jamaica seven years ago, said that she sees a
private doctor for skin problems. Her doctor wants her to
undergo tests, but she cannot afford to get a "head to toe" exam.
Stewart, on the other hand, finally has a work permit that
her to get health insurance.
Her blood tests came back negative, but the pain persists.
her appointment with Dr. Browne will reveal the
of the problem.
"Well, I'm kind of getting used to the pain now," she said.
The comments section is provided as a free service to our readers. Gotham Gazette's editors reserve the right to delete any comments. Some reasons why comments might get deleted: inappropriate or offensive content, off-topic remarks or spam.