Addressing problems in Hmong health care

May 14, 2010 

About 60 people gathered Thursday at UC Merced to discuss a topic that has been ignored for too long -- health problems in the Hmong population.

Sponsored by the Hmong Health Collaborative and UC Merced, the group included doctors, teachers, researchers and others looking at the disparity in health care among the Hmong.

"The statistics are horrible," said Dr. Peter Kunstadter, program director, Asian Health Program, University of California. Kunstadter said he did research on PubMed, an online medical resource that has millions of written studies. "There have been no comprehensive studies on diabetes in the Hmong at all, and we all know that diabetes is a huge problem in the Hmong."

Kunstadter said 25 years ago people in the health care world knew that the Hmong weren't getting the care they needed.

"We knew this was happening, and we dropped the ball," he said.

There are about 8,000 Hmong in Merced County. The Hmong have been in the county since the late 1970s, after the Vietnam War. They originally lived as farmers in Laos, and when they came to the United States, and to Merced, they came as a culture misunderstood by almost everyone.

A book was written in the 1980s about the disparities in health care for the Hmong in Merced, called "The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down." After the book came out, which chronicled a child's health care, groups were formed to make sure the Hmong got better health care.

But the speakers at Thursday's meeting made it clear that there are still problems with the Hmong accessing the health care they need.

Marilyn Mochel, executive director of Healthy House Within a Match Coalition, a community nonprofit that provides help to the Hmong, said learning about health disparities is not just about helping the Hmong people.

"There are a lot of people in our community who don't have the information they need to be treated for their health problems," Mochel said. "These findings can help everyone."

UC Merced Chancellor Steve Kang said Merced is a diverse community, but one with such problems as a low level of education and a lot of health problems.

"Finding out where the gaps are is a good starting point," Kang said.

Some of the problems that aren't unique to the Hmong, but are undertreated in their population, include diabetes, high blood pressure and cancer.

Mochel said she wanted to dedicate the meeting to Chong Xiong, a Hmong man she said was let down by health care in the county. Xiong died from complications of diabetes and high blood pressure, she said.

"We need to address the health care problems, because these are real people that are impacted," she said.

Reporter Carol Reiter can be reached at (209) 385-2486 or creiter@mercedsun-star.com.

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