Funding to explore how community healthcare pathways could improve cervical cancer prevention for rural Māori women

Te Herenga Waka researchers, in partnership with Ngāti Pāhauwera, have been awarded nearly $1.3 million to explore how empowering rural communities to screen and provide on-site, rapid results for HPV could reduce barriers to screening and treatment for Māori in these areas.

Cervical cancer disproportionately affects Māori women and delays and disparities occur at all stages of the clinical pathway, from screening to diagnosis and treatment, says Professor Bev Lawton, lead investigator on the project.

This research project will utilise new technology that can provide on-site test results from swabs within one hour and will combine this with self-testing for HPV rather than a traditional cervical smear. This will allow rural health services to provide immediate diagnosis, support, information and follow up appointments when needed.

Professor Lawton says that this approach could improve the number of women who receive timely treatment when needed, and empower rural communities to control the healthcare pathway, ultimately leading to better cervical health outcomes in these areas.

“Testing for HPV, the causative agent of cervical cancer, is much more effective at detecting pre-cancer and preventing cervical cancer that cervical smears, and research has shown that the less invasive option of self-testing is more acceptable for Māori women,” she says.

“With this pathway, women can do their own HPV self-test, have a cuppa, be given their result and organise any required treatment within one appointment. Our research will determine whether this improves the timeliness and acceptability of cervical screening and treatment for these women.”

The project, He Tapu Te Whare Tangata: Empowering Rural Solutions, will take place in Te Wairoa in the Hawkes Bay and Tairāwhiti on the East Cape and will be delivered in partnership with the community.

The research is a key progression in an ongoing stream of work looking at cervical cancer prevention from Te Tātai Hauora O Hine—The Centre for Women’s Health Research. It builds on a long standing and productive partnership with Ngāti Pāhauwera and will be implemented with the same Kaupapa Māori Research approach that has been successful in previous studies.

Toro Waaka, Chairperson of the Ngāti Pāhauwera Development Trust, says that the relationship between Iwi and the Centre demonstrates a model that provides realistic and innovative solutions focued on what whānau see as their needs.

“We have confidence in the specialist core competencies of the team to bridge sensitive cultural and gender issues. This has the potential to inform policy, broaden service delivery, reduce disease and burden and save lives from cervical cancer,” he says.