The Southeast Asian region is composed of 11 countries that bordered by China, India and Australia. The region is categorically divided into two geographic areas, based on the location on the Asian continent.
The mainland area is comprised of Myanmar, Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, Malaysia and Laos. On the other hand, the maritime area included the islands of the Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei. It has been estimated that Southeast Asia is inhabited by 1.5 billion individuals, representing 25% of the global human population.
Significant migration occurred from these countries into the United States, thus resulting in the need for healthcare providers to understand these cultures and religious backgrounds.
It should be important to understand the each Southeast Asia country follows a unique culture and thus it would be helpful to identify characteristic features of each country in order to fully provide healthcare services to these populations. In addition, other socioeconomic factors should also be considered, including reasons for migration, age during migration and the length of stay in the United States.
One major common factor among the Southeast Asia countries is the prevalence of poverty, which strongly influences almost all aspects of living (Plianbangchang, 2007). It has long been established that poverty has an effect on the educational standards of populations, as well as the health conditions of its residents. It has been observed that there are high numbers of infants who are born with very low birth weights in Southeast Asia.
Poverty has also influenced the shortening of the life expectancy of every Southeast Asian individual. Economic hardship among Southeast Asian countries has also resulted in the high frequencies of mortality during pregnancy and childbirth, most probably due to the scarcity of financial resources of the individuals themselves, coupled with the lack of healthcare institutions around these countries.
At the same time, women and girls are usually uneducated, and this also affects their perceptions of healthy living.
Another major healthcare concern associated with immigrants from Southeast Asia countries is the prevalence of infectious diseases. Tuberculosis is widely spread among these countries and thus it is most likely that new immigrants are carriers of this bacterial infectious pathogen.
Human immunodeficiency virus/ acquired immunodeficiency disease syndrome (HIV/AIDS) is also a major health issue in the region. In the last few years, severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) has also plagued particular countries in Southeast Asia and thus it is possible that this infectious respiratory disease is transferred into the United States as migration continues.
There are also other internal medical or non-communicable disorders that are prevalent among Southeast Asians, such as diabetes, cancer and heart disease, and these are mostly due to the poor healthcare systems in their home countries. The prevalence of diabetes is high among Southeast Asians of the age range of 45 to 65 years old.
This age range is considered as the most productive age group, yet this non-communicable disease afflicts a significant proportion of the Southeast Asian population. Diabetes affects the productivity of these individuals, resulting in an increase in the absence at the workplace, as well as additional expenses for healthcare services. In addition, there is also a poor understanding of this disease and is commonly left undetected and untreated.
Another pressing factor that needs to be considered among Southeast Asian migrants into the United States is that of mental health disorders. Southeast Asians are taught to be resilient amidst financial and emotional hardship and thus it is uncommon to hear any complaints from individuals originating from this region.
Aside from this culture of resiliency, there is more pressure on Southeast Asian women, who are expected to fulfill all household or domestic responsibilities such as caring for the children and maintaining the cleanliness and orderliness of the home. It should be understood that migration into the United States involves acclimation to the new Western culture and thus it is generally difficult to settle down in a new country, especially when one originates from a poor Southeast Asian country.
However, settling down in the United States becomes more complicated when language barriers exist. Migrants from certain Southeast Asian countries find it difficult to learn the English language, especially when the age at migration is older, such as around 40 years old and above. Young migrants are observed to have the easiest time in learning the English language and thus children adapt quickly while their older parents take at least twice the time to learn the English language.
The difficulty in settling down in the United States thus usually results in depression, because there is a feeling of being isolated and helpless in a new country. The pace of life in the United States is also totally different from that in the Southeast Asian countries.
Immigrants from Vietnam and Laos are particularly more susceptible to mental health disorders because these countries were subjected to extreme hardship and thus these immigrants entered the United States as refugees.
There may also be other immigrants that moved to the United States due to other political reasons such as communism or other tribulations. Since these individuals are strongly associated with their own cultural principles, then the initial life in the United States is generally a big adjustment for these individuals.