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Improving African Immigrant Health at Adventist HealthCare

By Emeobong E. Martin

Beat It board. Emeobong E. MartinAfrican-born individuals account for four percent of the total population in the United States. In the Washington, D.C. area, African immigrants make up 11% of the total immigrant population, making it one of the largest U.S. metropolitan areas where African immigrants reside.

Statistics indicate that many of the chronic and infectious diseases that disproportionately affect African Americans (e.g., type 2 diabetes, hepatitis, and HIV/AIDS) are burdensome for African immigrants as well. For example, African immigrants are three times more likely to be infected with hepatitis B virus than Asian immigrants and four times more likely to be infected than European immigrants1. However, unlike African Americans, African immigrants also have unique health needs.

Many providers who work with African immigrants experience challenges when delivering care to this population, including in identifying appropriate resources and understanding the cultural needs of their patients. Similarly, many African immigrant patients experience barriers to communicating with healthcare practitioners, which often results in reduced medical adherence. To address the unique health issues of African immigrants, the Center on Health Disparities at Adventist HealthCare (the Center) developed BEAT IT! (Becoming Empowered Africans through Improved Treatment of Diabetes, Hepatitis B, and HIV/AIDS) through an award funded by the Office of Minority Health Resource Center's National African Immigrant Project. The 20-month pilot project promotes improvements in disease self-management for patients in the greater Washington D.C. and surrounding areas and provides training to assist healthcare providers in delivering culturally appropriate care.

"The health problems of [African] immigrants may not be much different from [that] of people [born in the United States]," says Elias Mamo, MD, an Ethiopian-born infectious disease physician at Washington Adventist Hospital, "but the thinking of African immigrants is different."

A total of eight health provider training sessions will be held throughout the Washington, DC area in the fall of 2012. Prior to implementing this training, the Center is holding several focus groups to solicit the input of healthcare providers of African immigrants. Overall, the BEAT IT! Project hopes to improve the patient-provider relationship by engendering trust through increased cultural awareness and improved delivery of culturally appropriate care throughout the continuum of care.

Still, challenges exist and a significant hurdle to collecting feedback and possible training implementation is the willingness of persons affected with HIV/AIDS to disclose their health status.

"The stigma associated with having HIV/AIDS still exists and is still a huge barrier, especially for people born in Africa, to either disclose their status or to opt for HIV testing," notes Thoko Moffat, a native of South Africa and a nurse manager at the Dennis Avenue Clinic in Silver Spring, Maryland.

As a result, the Center is collaborating closely with community clinics and leaders who work within the African immigrant community to identify eligible candidates to provide curriculum feedback and participate in training sessions this fall.

To view a three-minute video about the BEAT IT! Project, visit the Center on Health Disparities YouTube channel: Exit Disclaimer

For more information about the upcoming provider focus groups and training sessions, e-mail Emeobong Martin, BEAT IT! Project Manager at

Emeobong E. Martin has over nine years of experience in public health in academic, government and local community-based settings. She earned her master's in public health in behavioral science and health education from Saint Louis University. As the daughter of Nigerian immigrants, Ms. Martin works within her passion of addressing health disparities as project manager of BEAT IT! at the Center on Health Disparities at Adventist HealthCare in Rockville, MD.


Shire, A. M., Sandhu, D. S., Kaiya, J. K., Oseini, A. M., Ju Dong, Y., Chaiteerakij, R., & Roberts, L. R. (2012). Viral Hepatitis Among Somali Immigrants in Minnesota: Association of Hepatitis C With Hepatocellular Carcinoma. Mayo Clinic Proceedings, 87(1), 17-24.

11/20/2012 9:23:00 AM