Background: Migration leads to changes in almost all areas of life including health. But how far are health beliefs also preserved, and how far are they affected by the process of acculturation to the host society?
Objectives: To examine the difference between behavior and attitudes towards conventional and traditional medicine among elderly Yemenite immigrants.
Methods: A community-based study was conducted in the Yemenite neighborhoods in the city of Rehovot. All inhabitants of Yemenite origin over the age of 70 were identified from the population register, excluding those who were institutionalized or demented. Social work students interviewed them at home. The questionnaire inquired after health problems in the preceding month. For each of these problems, the respondent was asked whether any mode of treatment had been employed – Yemenite folk remedies, conventional medical care, or other. Their attitudes towards Yemenite folk medicine and conventional medicine were recorded. Socioeconomic data included their current age, age at immigration, year of immigration, marital status, gender, religiosity, and education.
Results: A total of 326 elderly people were identified who fulfilled the selection criteria, of whom 304 (93%) agreed to be interviewed. Of these, 276 (91%) reported at least one health problem in the preceding month, providing 515 problems of which 349 (68%) were reported to a conventional medical doctor while 144 (28%) were treated by popular folk remedies. Fifty-nine problems (11.5%) were treated by specifically Yemenite traditional remedies, mostly by the respondents themselves (38/59) rather than by a traditional healer. Immigrants who arrived in Israel over the age of 30 years, as compared to respondents who immigrated at an earlier age and grew up in Israel, were more likely to use traditional Yemenite remedies (24.4% vs. 8.2%, P<0.005).
Conclusion: Aged Yemenite Jews in Israel prefer modern medicine. The earlier the immigrant arrived in Israel, the more positive the attitude towards modern medicine and the less use made of traditional Yemenite healing.