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Women get culturally-sensitive healthcare

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Beth Briggs

RALEIGH, N.C. — Sumera Hayat, a physician and public-health expert, was concerned that many of her immigrant patients were not getting needed health care, primarily because of cultural differences and a lack of basic knowledge about medical services available to their families.

So in 2005, she co-founded Mariam Clinic to provide free healthcare services, including specialty referrals, counseling, patient education, nutritional guidance, links to community resources, and screening for public-health insurance.

The name Mariam, or Mary, is the quintessential name for the embodiment of feminine values, says Hayat. In the Judaic, Christian and Muslim faiths, Mariam or Mary is highly revered as a woman of strength, great spirit and compassion.

“Mariam Clinic seeks to emulate these traits and to provide a welcoming sanctuary for all women and to uphold fundamental principles of all religious traditions, including service, dignity, social justice, compassion, peace and mutual understanding,” she says.

In July of 2008, Hayat, her husband, Jeff Wilkenson, who also is a physician, and two young children moved to Kilimanjaro Christian Medical College in Kenya to create a maternal health clinic in a collaborative project with Duke University’s Global Health Institute.

At that point, Naaila Moumaris, a former Mariam Clinic board member assumed the role of the executive director of the clinic, which is based in Raleigh.

Moumaris, a human-services professional experienced in working with homeless families and special-needs children, previously volunteered at the clinic, offering a seven-class series on parenting, as well as self-care classes for women along with Ayesha Chaudry, a Duke University psychiatrist.

The youngest of eight girls, Naaila is a native of Kinston, N.C., a former Girl Scout, an N.C. Central University graduate and a mother of three who is currently working on a Masters in counseling from East Carolina University.

She recently completed Leadership Triangle, a leadership development program, and as a graduate is now a Goodmon Fellow.

A busy woman, Moumaris says she lives on Red Bull energy drinks and protein bars, and her eyes sparkle as she talks about her devotion to her work.

Naaila talks about the holistic nature of the health care. Women might come to Mariam Clinic for flu-like symptoms but end up discussing domestic violence, immigration concerns, their children or questions about their new homeland.

The Clinic’s database offers referrals for food pantries, child immunizations, prescriptions, medical eligibility requirements or healthcare specialists.

Helping build clients’ “health wealth,” Naaila describes creating the spiritual, mental and emotional foundation for the family.  When a mother takes care of herself, she can take care of her family, she says, and healthy families create healthy communities.

Mariam Clinic’s client population is Hispanic, Arab, Asian, Eastern European, African and African American. A significant percentage of the clients are Muslim, and services are translated into ten different languages.

The typical patient is a working, uninsured family.  The children often have Medicaid or NC Health Choice but the parents’ income, is often too high to be eligible for public health care assistance.

Muslims, refugees and immigrants continue to face negative stereotypes and have few places to turn, says Moumaris. The clinic provides a safe, secure, trusted facility that regardless of culture, religion, nationality or language, woman and their children can receive quality services.

Some 95 percent of patients are women and children, but male patients also are welcome.

A twelve-member speakers bureau provides Islamic cultural education to healthcare professionals, the FBI, Homeland Security, corporations and government agencies. The doctors, along with 100 volunteers, donate their time.

The clinic is a member of the North Carolina Association of Free Clinics, supported by Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina Foundation. For more information about Mariam Clinic, visit their website at www.mariamclinic.org.

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