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Author: Deanna Kepka, PhD
What is your experience as a human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine and cancer prevention researcher?
In my role as an HPV vaccine and cancer prevention researcher at Huntsman Cancer Institute at the University of Utah (the U), an associate professor in the College of Nursing at the U, and the director of Global Health Program, I have worked to improve HPV vaccination locally and globally for 15 years. Cancer prevention through vaccination is my passion. My love for global health was born when I worked for a HIV/AIDS nongovernmental organization in Jamaica as a Peace Corps volunteer in my early 20s.
What was the purpose of your visit to Uganda?
Cervical cancer is the most frequent cancer among women in Uganda. With a population of more than 12 million women, about 5,000 women die from cervical cancer each year.
I went to Kampala, Uganda to partner with my colleagues, Schola Matovu, PhD, and Debra Penney, PhD, on an HPV vaccination and cancer prevention workshop for nursing, medical, and health students at Clarke International University.
Dr. Matovu is an assistant professor in the College of Nursing at the U and is completing a Fogarty Award in Uganda. Her foundational research explores the experiences and emotional well-being of grandparents who care for their grandchildren affected by HIV/AIDS in Uganda. Her research involves interviews and discussions with community members to inform the development of a program that supports Ugandan grandmothers. This program aims to help them become financially independent, receive peer-to-peer support, and improve their overall health. This workshop builds on this research.
What are the key findings from the workshop?
Our workshop had a total of 65 participants and three staff members. Together, we learned about similar barriers to timely cervical cancer screening and prevention services faced by women in Uganda and those in rural communities in the United States. Throughout the training, the Clarke International University students were engaging, thoughtful, and inspiring. I enjoyed working together and look forward to working with them again.
Our post-training survey included 49 respondents where we learned these takeaways:
- Nearly 7 in 10 identified as women.
- About 7 in 10 were students.
- Respondents ranged from 20-46 years old. The average age was 27.8.
- Of respondents who identified as women, about 60% never received a pap smear.
- About 3 in 4 had never received an HPV vaccine.
- Out of the respondents, about 1 in 5 have a daughter between the ages of 11-17. Among these daughters, 22% have not received an HPV vaccine.
- All 49 of the respondents believed the training to be relevant to their academic knowledge and professional development.
Why is HPV awareness important?
HPV is the most common sexually transmitted infection in the world. Nearly all of us have had it or will have it. Enhancing HPV screening and HPV vaccination efforts for children means we can prevent cervical and other HPV-related cancers in all people. This approach safeguards people’s private area and protects against oral cavity and throat cancers. Awareness also helps remove the stigma that surrounds HPV.
What can people do help promote HPV awareness?
- Promote HPV vaccines for children.
- Advocate for HPV cervical cancer screening for persons with a cervix.
- Raise awareness to remove the stigma that surrounds HPV.