adolescent and doctor
May 9, 2018

The University of Maryland has received a $2.2 million grant from the National Cancer Institute at the National Institutes of Health to develop effective communication strategies to improve human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccination rates among African-American adolescents.

HPV is the most common sexually transmitted infection in the United States. If left untreated, it can cause a variety of cancers, but it is easily prevented through a vaccination. The best time to be vaccinated is between ages 11 and 12, which means that the decision to vaccinate or not is made by parents or caregivers.

“This vaccine is especially controversial because parents, regardless of race, fear it will encourage their children to become sexually active sooner—even though there is no evidence to support that concern,” Xiaoli Nan, professor of communication in UMD’s College of Arts and Humanities and director of UMD’s Center for Health and Risk Communication, says in UMD Right Now.

Dr. Nan will lead a cross-disciplinary research team that includes co-investigators Dr. Cheryl Holt and Dr. Min Qi Wang from UMD’s School of Public Health and Dr. Shana Ntiri and Dr. Clement Adebamowo from the University of Maryland School of Medicine.

The team will develop and test communication strategies to encourage African-American parents to vaccinate their children against HPV. The study builds on research Dr. Nan began in 2011, which found that African-Americans’ historical mistrust of the medical community as well as negative views on vaccines partially contribute to the low vaccination rates.

“The study is highly significant in that it will identify optimal strategies to increase HPV vaccination in this important priority group,” Dr. Holt says. “HPV vaccination is an evidence-based strategy to prevent cervical cancer, yet is critically under-utilized.”

"By bringing together an innovative team of investigators working across disciplinary boundaries and campuses, this ambitious project supports the goals of our strategic partnership with the University of Maryland, Baltimore," says Bonnie Thornton Dill, dean of the UMD College of Arts and Humanities. "When communication scholars, public health experts and doctors from Maryland's most powerful public research institutions collaborate we can solve important health problems facing the state and the nation."

By using research methods that draw on the humanities, social sciences and medicine, the team will ultimately make evidence-based recommendations for doctors, nurses and public health officials about how to communicate with African-American parents about the HPV vaccine.

Related People
Min Qi Wang, Cheryl L. Knott