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Jewish Russian Immigrants
in the US and around the
world. Health Needs.
Part 2: Health challenges
Olga Greg and the Supercourse team
University of Pittsburgh
Somatic problems:
Acute physical illness
Chronic diseases
Jewish Genetic Disorders
Mendelian Disorders are the direct result of
mutated genes
Disease Predisposition Genes are disorders
which result from the combination of specific
Mendelian Disorders
Bloom Syndrom
Canavan Disease
Crohn's Disease
Factor XI Deficiency
Familial Dysautonomia (Riley-Day syndrome)
Fanconi Anemia
Gaucher Disease
Mucolipidosis IV
Niemann-Pick Disease
Non-Classical Adrenal Hyperplasia
Nonsyndromic Hearing Loss
Tay-Sachs Disease
Torsion Dystonia
Disease Predisposition Genes
Breast Cancer (BRCA1 and BRCA2)
Familial Colon Cancer and BRCA2)
Common diseases seen in immigrants
from Russia include:
coronary disease
gastrointestinal problems
alcohol and substance abuse
Alcohol Problems:
The alcohol dehydrogenase (ADH2) gene
relates to alcohol dependence, alcohol
consumption, and reported alcohol-related
symptoms. However, the association of
ADH2 with alcohol-related behavior is not
well characterized in Ashkenazic Jews*.
Although alcoholism is a tremendous problem
in Russia, the incidents of alcohol abuse in
Russian immigrants is very low.**
Cultural beliefs influencing health
Some immigrants believe that disability or
illness is caused by something the individual
did not do right, such as not eating well or not
dressing warmly enough.
Good health is equated with absence of pain.
Illnesses that do not cause pain often go
undiagnosed and under-treated, such as
Type 2 diabetes, hypertension, and high
Non-somatic problems:
Stress / Distress
Language barrier
Social isolation
Depression resulting from an
undermining of morale
Upset or destruction of normal
A state of disorder and confusion
Symptoms of demoralization:*
loss of control
loss of hope
sense of failure
feeling life was a burden
loss of meaning and a belief that life's
meaning is dependent on health
Stigma around mental illness
Mental illness is often regarded as
Immigrants often do not disclose a family
history of mental illness or past treatment.
Acculturation challenges
Acculturation to both American and Jewish
cultures is related to psychological
adaptation, peer relations, and school and
family outcomes. Both acculturations
reduce loneliness and increase perceived
support from parents. Different dimensions
of acculturation, such as language and
identity, are differentially related to
Language Problems
Refugees and migrants from non-English
speaking cultures have little preparation
for their new English speaking
Their limited English language skills
exacerbate resettlement problems
regardless of previous economic and
social status
Communication challenges
No ability to discuss health promotion issues
such as smoking, diet, physical activity,
vitamins and medication intake with their
Lack of knowledge of medical terminology
Relying on relatives with lack of medical
knowledge to translate medical documents
Lack of knowledge about preventive
Cultural difficulties
Lack of understanding of US health care
Expect more compassion and emotional
closeness with their physician
Rather than appreciating the privacy and
autonomy of the American medical culture,
patients may complain about the quality of
medical treatment they receive
Question the physician’s ability to understand
their problems.
Home remedies use
Often doctor’s health recommendations are
rejected or substituted by home remedies
and treatments
Home remedies are often used prior to
seeking medical attention
Conclusions and patient care
It is important to understand patients’
background and cultural norms. Russian
Jewish immigrants might have needs and
cultural norms that are different from other
population groups
Address the physical, emotional, and spiritual
health of individuals and families
Ensure effective patient-provider
Get to know your patients on an individual level.
Not all patients from diverse populations conform
to commonly known culture-specific behaviors,
beliefs, and actions.
Failing to support and foster culturally competent
health care for racial and ethnic minorities can
increase costs for individuals and society
through increased hospitalizations and
Russian Jewish immigrants have unique
educational, cultural, and health background
Several genetic mutations (such as breast
cancer associated BRCA) are more prevalent in
Jewish populations
While public health programs have been tailored
to different ethnic, racial, and cultural minorities,
they rarely addressed the needs of this
population group
This lecture provides a short summary about this
group that would be helpful in guiding public
health interventions and educational programs