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.

Image source:

Quote network pattern

Today’s post was suppose to be about HPV and the spreading of the virus via oral sex…and whether this link could lead to the end of oral sex. I wanted to address HPV after seeing this story on Dominica News Online, with a link to the complete article on Jamaica Observer.

Instead, midway through reading the article, I came across this paragraph:

“Thirty-seven-year-old Wayne W, who has been married for nine years, said he has never cheated on his wife. However, there are times when he is so stressed that he will visit his girlfriend, who is also married, and they will have guilt free oral sex.”

While I am happy to see an article address HPV, especially among men and the importance of men to take an active role in understanding the virus and how it can cause various forms of cancer, my concern for the moment has to be on this relationship.

STD prevention messages keep pushing the “Be Faithful” approach with public health experts’ conceptualization of being faithful as a 1-1 relationship. However, for many people, including in the relationship described above, partners are saying that they are faithful…to their wife, their girlfriend and whoever else they are having oral or vaginal or other sexual relationships with.

I’m always intrigued by what gets someone “so stressed”  that the only way to get relief is to be with someone other than your wife or central partner. A previous article on Jamaica Observer referred to this pattern as a mental illness. Is it?

Much has been written about sexual network pattern and HIV transmission in Southern Africa. In fact, there is major debate about whether this behavior greatly increases the spread on HIV. Across the Caribbean, we see similar sexual network patters. What we do not see/hear about are behavioral research on why this pattern exists and how it is operationalized within out culture. STD transmission is very complex, and extrapolating what happens in one context to another is rarely advised. What I would like to see is more focus on understanding what facilitates these network patters across the region. Are there patterns a matter of proximity? What role does migration play in sexual networks?  What can be done to mitigate the participation in multiple and concurrent partnerships?