Need for quality health information in the news

A quick search for cervical cancer information across the web led me to an article on the’s website, discussing the new guidelines for Pap test issues by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. They now recommend that women can wait three to five years between checks for cervical cancer. Women ages 21-29 can go three years between visits while other 30 to 65 can wait up to five years.

After reading about this news, I clicked on an article about cervical cancer in the Jamaica Observer. That article carried the exact same information:

  • There was nothing relating the new guidelines to current recommendations in Jamaica.
  • The article presents no local information, i.e. no information on where women in Jamaica can go to test a Pap test.
  • There is no information on the rate of cervical cancer in Jamaica or the percentage of women who currently get Pap test.
  • There was nothing on risk factors for HPV (which includes sexual intercourse at an early age, multiple partners or a single partner whom had multiple partners).

Cervical cancer is one of the leading causes of morbidity and mortality among women in developing countries. It is the second leading cause of death among Jamaican women.  A cross-sectional survey of women in Trinidad found that although the majority (58.4%) knew about cervical cancer, 25% percent were aware of HPV but only 15.9 percent knew of the link between HPV and cervical cancer. There is also growing information about the different strains of HPV that Caribbean women carry and debate about whether the approved vaccines are effective. These are just a bit of information that can enhance an article such as this.

This post is not just calling out the Jamaica Observer. This is representative of a trend I’ve seen while reading articles on news organization websites across the region.

How can journalist across the region improve the quality of health information they present?  What type of information do readers expect when they read health information from their newspapers? What effect, if any, does this type of news have on health decision-making? These are but a few of the questions that need answering.

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