Migrant Health Issues

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The health issues that face migrant and other mobile underserved populations are similar to those faced by other disadvantaged groups, including the poor, and especially rural poor, and recent immigrants. These illnesses are caused by poor nutrition, lack of resources to seek care early in the disease process, and infectious diseases from overcrowding and poor sanitation. However, the health problems migrants and their families face because of their low-income status and unfamiliarity with the culture are compounded by a migratory lifestyle and the inherent dangers and health risks involved in their occupations.

Migrants and their dependents experience more frequent and more severe health problems than the general United States population. Only a limited number of scientific studies have been made on the health status of migrants and other mobile underserved populations. Many of the studies conducted on migrant health have relied primarily on self-reporting of problems, retrospective recall of illnesses, or have focused primarily on the social barriers that hinder the delivery of health care to migrants.

High Risk General Problems

Men working in packing plant The overall medical and dental problems encountered in migrant populations are not dramatic, except on a quantitative basis. There seems to be more of everything, and common conditions have been allowed to progress to very serious stages. Migrants experience a large number of minor ailments. They also identify and treat some conditions as ailments which are actually underlying symptoms of other illnesses and which would be taken as signs of more serious health problems if they were clearly presented to health professionals. The potential lack of awareness that a condition, such as diarrhea or fever, might indicate a more serious underlying problem will sometimes cause delays in seeking professional medical attention: an earache is a minor condition if treated properly, but it can lead to deafness if not treated. Deafness is in no way a minor problem, and is one of the frequently mentioned major health problems in the migrant population.

All of the health care problems found in the general population are found in migrant groups. Some, however, occur more frequently. These include diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and asthma. Tuberculosis deserves special mention. Active cases are consistently found, and there are a high proportion of reactors among migrants, consequently it is necessary to be selective in choosing which patients will follow conventional therapy.

Dental problems abound in migrant populations, yet dental care takes very low priority in the help-seeking behavior of migrants. Routine examinations of both children and adults reveal catastrophic dental sequelae. Bottle mouth caries is a relatively common problem, and gingivitis is rampant among adults.

Prenatal care for migrant mothers is difficult, and many of the pregnancies are high risk. There are high numbers of pregnancies in both very young and much older women. The absence of prenatal care, especially early in the pregnancy, is common, as are multigravida females. These conditions lead to a high incidence of premature births, preeclampsia, and other complications.

There is probably no other population in the United States that has had simultaneously high incidences of both over-immunization and under-immunization of children. Many pediatric migrant patients have been immunized four or five times in the same season, due to the problems of continuity of care, while others have been missed completely for the same reason. The primary list of minor pediatric health problems most frequently encountered includes rashes, strains, sprains, upper respiratory infections, otitis media, abdominal discomfort, diarrhea, urinary tract infections, anemia, lacerations, headaches, and dizziness.

Depression is another concern among adult migrants which may be related to isolation, economic hardship or weather conditions which can hamper work. Adult men are vulnerable to substance abuse that can be related to poverty, stress, lack of mobility or recreational opportunities.