Ameek Bindra is a recent graduate from the University of California, Berkeley with a passion for preventative medicine and culturally competent healthcare. With a background in Data Science and Human Biology, Ameek has worked at institutions like UCSF Innovation Ventures, Berkeley College of Engineering, and Berkeley School of Public Health to develop technological solutions to increase healthcare access for marginalized communities. She seeks to continue advocating for more women’s health research and increasing health education by leveraging social media and other modern technological avenues. She even started an Instagram page called “Brown Women Health” to spread awareness about healthcare disparities that exist for ethnic minorities in the US and around the world. To further spread information about social factors affecting women’s health, preventative measures for problems faced by women and much more.
She had some amazing observations which come to the fore in the following interview.
Q1. How did the idea to start the page come about? How long did it take you to ideate and actually start the page?
A close family member of mine was diagnosed with breast cancer about 3 or 4 years from now. When that happened, I didn’t really understand much. But during covid when I had free time, I started doing my research on the disease. I was also part of a forum at the time, which focused on women’s empowerment and healthcare, and no one in the group had a healthcare background, but everyone talked about the things they were struggling with. I also noticed how when my family member had breast cancer, no one really wanted to talk about it. It was all hush-hush. So, I started looking if there was any research on the societal/cultural aspects of breast cancer. There is very limited research that exists. And the ones that exist is outdated. I was also reading things like South Asian women are less likely to attend breast cancer screenings until it’s very late, owing to cultural reasons. I remember reading such things and feeling angry. I felt like I wanted to do something. But I was sitting at home. I was not a doctor. But I love making graphics. I read this quote, the founder of LinkedIn said– ““If You’re Not Embarrassed by the First Version of Your Product, You’ve Launched Too Late” (businessinsider.com)”. So, I just created a page, made a bunch of graphics starting with breast cancer. Then I realised there were so many healthcare issues. I wanted to focus on women. I feel we talk a lot about diabetes and cardiovascular issues which is very prominent in our community but because of that the women’s health issued are really shadowed, that’s why I really cared about reproductive health especially, varying cancers, etc. I didn’t really think too much about it, I just made the page and afterwards I started thinking about how I want this to go, but it has really been a team effort. I couldn’t have done it alone.
Q2. What discrepancies in healthcare have you noticed between ethnically minority community and the majority?
I have been privileged to live in areas filled with south Asian people. I am from New Jersey. I went to college in California. There is a huge south-Asian community there as well. I’ve always been in a nice environment where I can connect with people from my culture. But the huge problem that exists is in the way we teach the health education. Also, a lack of resources because you can’t really expect so much from one person. The doctor too is only a human.
I also noticed is that language can be a huge barrier in going to a doctor. Like India has so many languages, and it can be difficult for people to speak about their issues if English is not their first language, especially with elderly people. There is a language barrier for medicine and so when you are describing symptoms to a doctor, you might not feel comfortable talking to the doctor because you don’t have the language to speak. Especially with women’s health. I was talking to my Punjabi friends about what the word is for ‘period’ in Punjabi, and the language doesn’t exist. Even if there is a word, it is not a commonly used word. Same thing with the word ‘ovary’. I was making an infographic on ovarian cancer. I started looking for words for this terminology in the Punjabi language and again, the word for ovary is not there, so how do you say that you have this disease? Even if the words exist, they are outdated. Health education is important.
One thing I wanted the page to focus on was preventative health. If you’re not able to describe your symptoms, if the language doesn’t exist, then that’s an immense problem. Doctors might not be able to talk to you. Another thing that was uncovered, for example, in the UK, was people in hospitals in the UK have this racist culture where the doctors would internally joke around, if its elderly south Asian women that they are exaggerating their symptoms. It’s an infrastructural problem if racism and sexism exist and is not addressed in the healthcare education of doctors. A lot of these things don’t start with healthcare, they come from outside and seep in.
Q3. What are the common taboos related to health care in south Asian communities that you have noticed? What do you think can be done to remove the hesitation?
In terms of the different taboos–reproductive health, mental health and disability tops the list. There’s a UK based organisation called “Chronically Brown” that works on removing these taboos. One of the things I have seen in the community, especially if you have some kind of ailment is, the reaction of –‘oh you’re cursed or like karma–you deserve it’. This is bad because if you are given that kind of label that I have this disability because of karma or that I did some bad deeds in my past, then you don’t want to share what happened to you or with you with anyone. It feeds into the taboo. My speculation is that all this hush-hush plays a stronger role for women than it does for men. I’ve seen that people will blame things more on women than do on men. Past life or whatever, for men, women are told to play this family sort of role–it’s their job to help the men or family to feel better, but it is not even an option to put themselves first.
Q4. What are the practical things you have noticed with making access to certain healthcare facilities more difficult for ethnic minority and women specially?
In term of accessibility, for example, therapy is really expensive and not the most accessible. More than accessibility, it also can just be the quality of therapy. I know that when I was in college, there were student services, but they were bad and not good. Though there are some organisations which are really specific in who they cater too, for example, resources available for brown students only etc. When you’re so specific to cultures, it is a lot more meaningful. More shared experiences. I have an East-Asian friend and I remember talking about therapy with this friend. My friend was telling me that there was a difference between a therapist who was East Asian and who wasn’t. The East Asian therapist understood a lot of the problem that my friend had but a non-Asian therapist – their reaction is shock as these are things they are unfamiliar with. They take more time to understand or sometimes don’t understand at all. More time is required to understand the culture before they can actually help the person. It is important to have access to someone who actually understands where you’re coming from, what kind of family dynamics you might have. Even though specific help is available but you might still not be able to access them. If you’re living in a remote part of the country, you might not find someone in your area. Online infrastructure helps now. In the US, they shortened the hotline for mental health-related problems from a huge number do just a 3 digit number. On a more personal level, I have seen a lot of south Asian specific therapists, organisations etc. especially in the past couple of years coming up. Change is happening. Slowly but surely.
Q5. What was the response you got on this page? How have you been able to create an impact with this page?
When I created the page, I was very particular that I will post information only from verified and certified sources. Today, you can search for information on anything that may or may not be creditable. I’ve been very particular about research and what we put on the page because I am not a student in that field. I do not have enough knowledge on these topics; hence research is key. You can’t just post anything up there. I was a little scared because even when we started this whole podcast thing on the page, interviewing actual doctors–they know so much, even patients–they know more about what is going on with them. So, with all of that, I was always a little hesitant–but the response we got has always been so positive–encouraging us to do more from the community. It is a team effort. The demographics show people listening to the podcast in like South America, Germany or Indonesia, the most random parts of the world because our community has grown so much. And there are so many people all over the world who identify as south Asians, but this is an actual resource people can use–even with a break–podcast is still being listened too. I am grateful that I did the impulsive thing of starting this page.
Q6. What are your future plans with your page?
I want to create a platform where people in the community can talk to each other without me being the middleman. More open space for communal sharing. Make the research and information more digestible to people. Sharing more stories. Creates most impact as it feels more personal. Language barriers–would be a dream to translate all the information into different south Asian languages for easy accessibility. As we move forward, I also want to put emphasis on the fact that even the journey till now was possible because of the incredible team I have. Our page is very much a team effort. Without meeting like-minded South Asian women from literally all around the world with the same passion for bridging culturally related health disparities, we would not have been able to make it this far! From designing eye-catching graphics to sharing their own stories to coming up with brilliant ideas, our small team has really carried Brown Women Health to another level.
Thank you so much to all the contributors to our page!
As team is so important to Ameek, before ending the article I want to thank all the people working behind the scenes on this page to make it a success.
Graphic Creators + Digital Artists: Anjali Sammeta, Maria Matthew, Murti Patel, Tanushri Akula
Researchers: Maliha Hossain, Opharsh Lail, Daniela George, Srihita Tripasuri, Gagan Grewal, Helen Andrade, Samara Mascarenhas, Elora Choudhary
Hosting Instagram Lives and Podcasts: Nimrah Khan, Ishani Ray
The team is international and representative of many different parts of South Asia!