Health Issues for Migrant Workers

Health is a big concern for farmworkers. According to the National Center for Farmworker Health, Inc., farmworkers are more likely to contract certain diseases or have health issues than other populations due to the type of work and working conditions that they are exposed to. Studies indicate that farmworkers suffer higher rates of infectious disease, tuberculosis, parasitic infection, and diarrhea than the general population. Occupational hazards are also attributed to higher instances of respiratory issues, which are often caused by exposure to fungi, dust and pesticides.

Respiratory Issues

Because they work outdoors, farmworkers are often exposed to environmental factors that put them at higher risk for respiratory issues such as asthma or bronchitis. Farmworkers are also susceptible to “Farmers Lung” which is an allergy-related disease caused by the inhalation of dust from moldy hay or straw, grain or tobacco. According to the National Center for Farmworker Health, Inc., farmworkers have a higher death rate related to respiratory conditions than other populations. If you have a respiratory illness, seek medical attention and treatment immediately.

Diabetes

According to the American Diabetes Association, Hispanics are 1.5 times and Mexican Americans are 1.7 times more likely to have type-2 diabetes than non-Hispanic White adults.

Migrant farmworkers are predominately Hispanic and have a higher genetic disposition to diabetes, although lifestyle and diet also play a critical role in developing the disease. While some types of diabetes can be controlled by diet, they still require frequent monitoring. Many types of diabetes require long-term treatment in order to control. Diabetes can also put you at higher risk for eye, skin and foot complications as well as heart disease and high blood pressure.

Infectious Diseases and Tuberculosis

Migrant workers are at increased risk for contracting a variety of viral, bacterial, fungal, and parasitic infections. They are approximately 6 times more likely to have tuberculosis than the general population due to their work and living conditions. Also, Migrant farmworkers with HIV are also at higher risk of contracting other infectious diseases such as tuberculosis. Tuberculosis (TB) is characterized by inflammation, formation of tubercles (node-like lesions), tissue death, formation of fiber-like tissue, and deposition of calcium. The disease commonly affects the respiratory system but may also involve other organ systems. TB is often spread through the air when an infected person coughs and is spread easily between people that live together, especially in close quarters, and those that travel together.

Access to Health Services

Migrant workers and their families face unique issues when accessing quality healthcare. Because they often have little or no insurance, and because they move around, they often don’t have any primary care. There are a number of options through federal and state government programs to help you obtain health care services.

Migrant Health Centers

Migrant and seasonal farmworkers and their families have access to primary healthcare services from Migrant Health Centers (MHC) across the United States through the Migrant Health Act of 1962.

For a directory of Migrant Health Centers in California, contact the National Center for Farm Worker Health at (800) 531-5120 or find it on their website at: www.ncfh.org/index.php?plugin=pocket_directory&conten t=results&state=CA.

A federally qualified health center (FQHC) is a type of provider defined by the Medicare and Medicaid statutes. FQHCs include all organizations receiving grants under Section 330 of the Public Health Service Act. These FQHCs serve residents in underserved areas and provide care even if you have no health insurance. Fees are assessed on what you can afford to pay.

To find a federally funded health center or rural health clinic in your area visit findahealthcenter.hrsa.gov.

You can also call the U.S. Health Resources and Service Administration at (877) 464-4772 (9:30-5:30 ET).

Mobile Health Clinics

There are also a number of mobile health clinics in California that offer a variety of health services to residents in the state. For a list of mobile health clinics that are registered through the Mobile Health Network, visit the Mobile Health Map website.

Mental Health Issues

According to the Farmworker Advocacy Network, 40 percent of farmworkers nationally are depressed and 30 percent experience anxiety. Causes of strain on mental health include isolation, limited social support, separation from family members, job and financial stress, poor housing and unhealthy working conditions.

Migrant workers face numerous sources of stress, including job uncertainty, poverty, social and geographic isolation, intense time pressures, poor housing conditions, intergenerational conflicts, separation from family, lack of recreation, and health and safety concerns. The State’s public mental health system offers a variety of services to those who have a mental illness. There are community programs in place, as well as hospital-based services. The California Department of Mental health offers the following services through your local (county) mental health department:

Rehabilitation and support

  • Evaluation and assessment
  • Vocational rehabilitation
  • Individual service planning
  • Residential treatment
  • Medication education and management

To find your local mental health services, visit www.dmh.ca.gov/docs/CMHDA.pdf. You can also get information on mental health services in your area by calling (916) 654-2147.