JSU professor’s research works to combat ‘most preventable cancer’ among Black women

(JACKSON, Miss.) – Jackson State University professors are doing considerable research in ways to enhance and protect the health of communities nationally and internationally. Visiting Assistant Professor Angela Omondi, DrPH, conducted two studies comparing cervical cancer screening knowledge, attitudes, and behaviors among young pregnant Black women in Kenya, Eastern Africa, and young Black women in Mississippi.

“My key goal is prevention, to ensure that younger Black women of reproductive age have knowledge of risk factors for cervical cancer and access to early detection screening services. This can ultimately improve health outcomes,” said Omondi. “Cervical cancer is one of the most preventable forms of cancer. We must equip young women with essential knowledge and access to screening services to reduce incidence and deaths related to advanced-stage cervical cancer.  The Pap smear test detects precancerous cells and supports early treatment and care.”

According to a study released by the American Cancer Society, cervical cancer is the most common cancer affecting women of all ages worldwide. In the United States, about 13,960 new cases of cervical cancer will be diagnosed, and about 4,310 women will die from the disease in 2023. 

While there have been improvements in cervical cancer screening (Pap tests) rates among women of color, many underserved and underrepresented communities still do not have access to the resources and screening services to help eliminate cervical cancer, often described as the most preventable form of cancer.  

This unnerving reality informs Omondi’s  investigative research, which asserts that in 2022, CDC data revealed that Black women have the highest mortality rate of cervical cancer compared to other racial/ethnic groups. This may validate the argument that lack of access to timely, high-quality healthcare services related to well-woman care exacerbates the disparities.

Upon defending her Spring 2021 dissertation on cervical cancer knowledge, beliefs, behaviors, and experiences among younger Black Women in Mississippi, Omondi received a Cancer Epidemiology Education in Special Populations scholarship from the City University of New York to support an extension of her dissertation research in Kenya, located in Eastern Africa.

Globally, Eastern Africa has the highest incidence and mortality rates of cervical cancer, almost three times the recorded new cases and deaths in the United States. Omondi believes that research on these stark disparities and urgent public health crises should be the knowledge needed to push government institutions and public health practitioners to bring awareness and allocate resources toward interventions.

“In Kenya and most African countries, pregnancy often marks a woman’s first encounter with formal health care services, and this presents a unique opportunity for screening services and education,” said Omondi. “This is the most preventable form of cancer, and nobody should die from cervical cancer complications in 2023.” 

A native of Kenya, Omondi moved to the United States nearly 10 years ago to pursue graduate studies, culminating her academic studies at JSU with a doctorate in public health and a post-doctoral fellowship at the University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa.

Omondi recognized JSU’s Behavioral and Environmental Health Department chair, Mary Shaw-Ridley, Ph.D., as a pivotal mentor who assisted her in pursuing this area of research as well as supplementing her with industry knowledge and opportunities to expand her academic skill set. 

Before working at JSU, Omondi and Shaw connected as student and mentor/advisor at the Robert Stempel College of Public Health and Social Work, at Florida International University in Miami, Florida. 

“We developed a relationship when she invited me to join her social and health disparities research lab that focused primarily on minority health research,” said Omondi. “She tapped and improved my research skills, taught me how to develop abstracts and manuscripts, and ultimately conceptualized my research ideas.”

With Shaw being an equally passionate, long-standing champion of women’s health, Omondi said she knew she found a kindred spirit and mentor as she navigated the terrains of public health research. With the vested partnership and trust of each other’s genius, Omondi found interest in attending JSU upon learning that Shaw would possibly join JSU as a department chair for the Department of Behavioral and Environmental Health..

“She knew that I was passionate about research and at the same time passionate about women’s health, so it has always been easy for us to work together and get along very well,” said Omondi. “For me, it has been extremely beneficial to have her mentorship because she is involved in plenty of work that interests me, including women’s health, maternal and child health, and breast cancer research.” 

Omondi looks forward to continuing her research to inform public health initiatives that will reduce glaring disparities in Black women’s health in Mississippi and global markets. “As I said, cervical cancer is the most preventable form of cancer, nobody should be dying from this cancer, and this goes for any other disease that is preventable,” Omondi said.  

She further asserted the need to develop interventions that increase access, especially for women living in Kenya without access to screening services because the government does not freely provide them. 

“In Mississippi, awareness campaigns should be developed to provide younger women with the knowledge of where these screening services are located,” she added.