Cervical screening: Perceptions and barriers to uptake among Somali women in Camden

A Abdullahi, J Copping, A Kessel, M Luck, C Bonell
Public Health 2009, 123 (10): 680-5

OBJECTIVES: To explore barriers to, and ways to improve, uptake of cervical screening among Somali women in Camden, London.

STUDY DESIGN: A qualitative research study using focus group discussions and in-depth interviews.

METHODS: A qualitative study (comprising seven focus groups and eight in-depth interviews) was conducted with 50 first-generation Somali women aged 25-64 years. Both the groups and the interviews explored participants' understanding of the purpose of cervical screening, and the various risk factors for cervical cancer, as well as their opinions on barriers to screening and suggestions for overcoming those barriers.

RESULTS: Knowledge about the purpose of cervical screening was limited among Somali women. There was also a lack of understanding of risk factors for cervical cancer, and many of the women held fatalistic attitudes, associated with the idea of 'God's will', about this cancer and other aspects of health. Another culturally specific barrier was embarrassment associated with female circumcision, i.e. female genital mutilation. Other barriers suggested by the participants were: lack of knowledge about the need for cervical screening, practical problems such as appointment times and childcare needs, language difficulties, fear of the test and negative past experiences. Possible solutions suggested by the participants included the provision of education and information about cervical screening in the Somali language by Somali community workers. They also suggested that healthcare staff should be trained about Somali culture, particularly regarding female circumcision, and that general practitioners should more proactively encourage Somali women to attend screening.

CONCLUSIONS: Language difficulties and specific cultural issues are key barriers to first-generation Somali women attending cervical screening. Providing education and information orally, as well as improving access to a more culturally appropriate screening service, could lead to improved uptake among this group.

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