The human papilloma virus (HPV) is the leading cause of cervical cancer; in the United States alone, the incidence of an HPV infection in women between the ages of 18-22 is 50%. These statistics by themselves are enough to cause alarm. Now consider the factors involved in a women going to an OB/GYN clinic to be screened for the virus; consider the need to take off work, how she will commute to the clinic, the amount of waiting involved once she’s finally there, and what about child care? For these reasons, Women With A Vision has paired with LSU Health Sciences in a study focusing on the usability of a home-test kit for HPV.
Outreach worker Zina Mitchell has lead the group in recruiting community participation as well as teaching current WWAV interns the most effective way of reaching individuals. The neighborhoods specified by the study are Treme, Holly Grove, and Central City. Beginning outreach during the first week in October, we have distributed over 120 flyers to individuals in grocery stores, restaurants, gas stations, and to those walking down sidewalks. General reactions have been inquisitive and friendly, asking more about what we’re doing and who we are. Conversations have allowed us to explain further the reason women need to be screened for HPV, regardless if they choose to do so through this study opportunity.
Recruiting participants has proved to be an interesting endeavor; learning how best to explain the risks involved in contracting HPV as well as why learning one’s own status could lead to preventing cervical cancer. The procedure of the study randomly assigns individuals to either a clinic visit or to use a home-testing kit. Among other forms required by the Institutional Review Board (IRB), we then present the individual with a questionnaire to verify eligibility (only those between the ages of 21-64 qualify) and a pre-test that will later be compared to the post-test. For those who are assigned to the clinic, WWAV provides either bus or street car tokens or a gas card—depending on the need of the client—and then we schedule an appointment.
For those assigned to the home-testing kit, the process is a bit more involved. We have pre-made kits for the women, including instructions on how to do the test. She then inserts the provided tampon for 2 hours, removes it and places it in the given tube and plastic bag, then places the pre-paid box in the mail, destination LSU Health Sciences.
Although we are in the beginning stages of this project, we anticipate a positive response from the communities participating. The mentality behind this study, the convenience and accessibility of testing for HPV at home, explains our involvement and support of the project. The clients that we work and interact with could only benefit from an easy method allowing them to determine their own HPV status when considering the many obstacles involved in preventing them from accessing services at an OB/GYN clinic; money, child care, and transportation being just a few of the deterrents.
Limited access to care especially in the realm of health services is a known reality for the individuals and families we serve. The idea of being able to assess one’s own health status at home opens a world of possibilities and allows for the individual to reclaim his or her own power; the power of autonomy. Removing stigma as it relates to health care opens the door to myriad opportunities for individuals to protect their own bodies from disease and to manage a life-style that will lead them to a long and happy life. At-home testing for HPV will do just that.