CELS research professor and colleagues launch campaign to fight cervical cancer

HPV vaccine offered at Dr. Annie De Groot’s Clinica Esperanza, Aug. 14

annie1KINGSTON, R.I. – July 30, 2015 – When a University of Rhode Island research professor and her colleagues launch a campaign to fight cervical cancer next month volunteers will be wearing colorful handmade scrubs.

Look closely at the medical tops and you’ll see images of the human papillomavirus, or HPV, that can cause the deadly cancer. The scrubs are African storytelling cloths, which are helping to wipe out the disease in Rhode Island.

The first of three shots of the HPV vaccine will be offered for free to uninsured men and women, ages 19 to 26, from 2 to 7 p.m., Aug. 14 at Clinica Esperanza/Hope Clinic, a free clinic at 60 Valley St., Providence.

Dr. Annie De Groot, clinic founder and director and a URI vaccine researcher, has been working closely with health officials in the West African country of Mali to screen women for cervical cancer.

With input from De Groot, Eliza Squibb, a graduate of the Rhode Island School of Design, designed an African storytelling cloth with images of the virus that men and women in Mali are wearing to show the connection between HPV and the prevention of cervical cancer. The project, funded by a grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, has been a big success.

Now the African cloth is making its debut in Rhode Island.

Valerie Joseph, full-time nurse director of Clinica Esperanza, came up with the idea to launch the HPV prevention campaign at the clinic – and use the African cloth as a special touch. Joseph and other nurse volunteers giving the vaccine will wear scrubs made from the fabric.

It was a family affair: Valerie’s mother, Marguie Joseph, a respiratory therapist, sewed five shirts with the cloth, a bold blue and yellow print of uteruses surrounded by a near-invasion of HPV viruses in abnormal cancer cells.

The top has two front pockets and sleeves with slogans in French – “Je me protégé,’’ or “I am protected” – to spread the word about the importance of getting vaccinated. In Africa, cloths are like social media, conveying political and cultural messages.

Joseph says she decided to create the HPV program after realizing that many of her patients, both men and women, had not been vaccinated. She attributes that to lack of knowledge about how HPV can cause cancer and the stigma attached to the shot.

“Some parents thought the vaccine was a green light allowing their kids to be sexually active, but nothing is further from the truth,’’ she says. “We’re trying to save lives.’’ [Read More]