Women of Color Are Less Likely to Get an HPV Diagnosis, Shows Research


Sep 3, 2021


Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

A new study has found glaring gaps in the diagnosis of Human papillomavirus infections between different racial and ethnic groups. Commonly known as HPV, it is the most common sexually transmitted infection in the world

Published in Women’s Health Reports yesterday, the study looked at data from U.S. national health surveys to assess the prevalence of HPV diagnosis and reporting among different demographics.

They found that white women were twice as likely to be diagnosed with an HPV infection as Asian women, and almost thrice as likely as Black women. Not only that, but women with a college education were also about three times as likely to receive a diagnosis than women without a high school degree.

However, people’s race, ethnicity, or sometimes education, didn’t actually make it less likely for them to have HPV. In fact, the study mentions “epidemiologic data indicating higher HPV prevalence among those less educated and in women of color.”

The researchers believe “communication gaps among these subgroups about HPV” may be contributing to the disparity.

Related on The Swaddle:

Study: HPV Vaccine Can Also Prevent Infection, Cancer in Boys, Men

“An understanding of the characteristics of women who reported having been told they had an HPV infection can help providers and public health officials to identify if potential communication gaps between women experiencing a clinically relevant infection and being told they have an infection exist,” the study notes, adding that “addressing these gaps can facilitate strategies to improve communication about HPV infection,” and “potentially reduce the economic burden and health disparities related to HPV infection.” 

While the present study was U.S.-based, it does indicate a lack of education, and subsequently, awareness may have a role to play in the lack of diagnosis. That’s, perhaps, a clarion call for governments and policymakers to ramp up awareness of the infection in their respective countries.

In India, for instance, about 6.6% of women in the general population are estimated to harbor cervical HPV infections at any given time, which accounts for 76.7% of cervical cancer reports in India. However, studies that attempted to find out actual the prevalence of HPV in the country, had data varying from 2.3% to 36.9%.

The lack of reliable population-wide estimates for India suggests that we can’t even assess the scale of risk, and devise strategies to deal with it accordingly. Basically, the first step itself is missing. And this is despite the WHO stating that “most sexually active women and men will be infected at some point in their lives and some may be repeatedly infected” — and Indians do have enough sex to produce 69,000 babies every day. And a lot of it is unprotected, often due to a lack of sex education — increasing the risk of contracting HPV.

However, the result of not taking HPV infections seriously can be fatal. Not only does it put people at risk of cervical cancer, but also cardiovascular diseases.


Written By Devrupa Rakshit

Devrupa Rakshit is an Associate Editor at The Swaddle. She is a lawyer by education, a poet by accident, a painter by shaukh, and autistic by birth. You can find her on Instagram @devruparakshit.


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