Cervical cancer is the third most common cancer among women worldwide. The disease, which strikes nearly 13,000 women in the U.S. each year, is highly preventable through screening and vaccination for the Human Papillomavirus (HPV), an infection that can trigger cervical cancer. Yet, in Minnesota, screening and vaccination rates among Somali women and children lag far behind those of non-Somalis. To help change this, researchers with the School of Public Health interviewed married Somali men to assess their knowledge of cervical cancer and their ability and willingness to help prevent it among the women in their families.
The study, written by public health administration and policy students Uzoma Abakporo (MPH, ‘15) and Abdirahman Hussein (MPH, ‘15) and faculty James Begun and Tetyana Shippee, was published in the Journal of Immigrant and Minority Health.
Abakporo and Hussein, who are members of Minnesota’s large immigrant community, initiated the study after learning about the lack of cervical cancer prevention efforts among its members.
Somali men typically hold the “head of the household” role and are key decision makers for the family. Abakporo and Hussein speculated that perhaps men did not know about prevention efforts directed toward women and children.
“Of the 30 married Somali males with children that we interviewed, more than 80 percent of the men had limited or no knowledge about cervical cancer or preventive services,” says Abakporo, lead author of the study. “For example, one respondent described cervical cancer screening as a test for skin cancer.”
When asked about who makes household health care decisions, a majority of the men stated that they would have a majority of influence in determining whether or not their wives or children received screenings or vaccinations. Most respondents also displayed an eagerness to learn more about such services.
“These findings are important for health disparities researchers and agencies that work with and target health interventions to immigrant communities, specifically Somali populations,” says Abakporo. “The findings suggests that a low level of knowledge of cervical cancer screening and HPV vaccine among Somali men — who are often household health care decision makers — may serve as a potential barrier to uptake of prevention services among Somali women and adolescents.”
In response, the authors recommend that public health investigators perform additional research expanding on the links between cervical cancer prevention knowledge among male Somali heads of households and the use of prevention services by their wives and children. In Minnesota, a focus on disease prevention among Somalis has become a priority after it was discovered that a recent Measles outbreak began within the community.
“Secondly, we advise that education around cervical cancer also target Somali men due to their critical role in health care decision-making in the household,” says Abakporo. “This potentially offers an opportunity to facilitate discussion with their spouses on these preventive services, and possibly increase uptake of screening and HPV vaccination in the Somali population.”