Today, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced a new challenge aimed at developing mobile application technology to connect women of color to information and resources for preventing and treating certain cancers. The challenge, or competition, called “Reducing Cancer Among Women of Color App Challenge”, encourages entrepreneurs, software developers, and others to develop this new technology, which will then be utilized to connect women of color to information and services to help them prevent and fight cancer.
According to the HHS Press Release, “More than 300,000 new cases of breast, cervical, uterine, and ovarian cancer are diagnosed each year.” Additionally, “while the incidence and prevalence of these cancers are widespread, disparities in prevention, early treatment, quality of care, and outcomes result in a higher prevalence and mortality rates among minority and underserved women.”
At the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health (NLIRH), we know this to be true of Latinas and cervical cancer. While mortality from cervical cancer is not as high compared to breast and other cancers (approximately 4-5,000 women die annually of cervical cancer compared to approximately 40,500 women from breast cancer), we know that Latinas make up a disproportionate share of women who are diagnosed with and die of cervical cancer. The reasons for this are many and complex (lack of health care insurance, lack of culturally and linguistically appropriate services, lack of immigration status) and point to larger injustices in who has access to preventive and other health care services.
The mobile applications will provide information “directly to women at a high risk of breast, cervical, uterine and ovarian cancers or women who already have been diagnosed with these cancers.” According to HHS, the winning app will:
- Provide users with general, accessible information about preventive and screening services for breast and gynecologic cancers – in different languages and in culturally appropriate contexts;
- Communicate with patient health records or provider-sponsored patient portals in a secure way that protects patient privacy and that will provide specific reminders and trigger electronic health record-based clinical decision support about preventive services;
- Support the secure storage, viewing, and the exchange of complex patient care plans in a way that protects patient privacy while strengthening communications between a patient’s care team that may be located across a large geographic area, such as a local clinician being able to work with a regional cancer center in a major metropolitan area; and
- Support patient engagement and caregiver support by helping patients and their caregivers keep track of complex care plans with a particular emphasis on connections to community health workers, such as promotores de salud.
The announcement was celebrated by the Congressional Tri-Caucus as it builds upon several months of advocacy by the Tri-Caucus to urge the Obama Administration to implement aspects of the Health Equity and Accountability Act (HEAA), a bill NLIRH supports which builds upon the foundation of the Affordable Care Act to eliminate disparities in health care access and health outcomes for communities of color and other intersecting communities. The Congressional Tri-Caucus- which consists of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, Congressional Black Caucus, and the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus- introduced HEAA in the House of Representatives last fall, and was introduced in the Senate by Senator Akaka (D-HI) in April 2012.
Today’s announcement is a step forward for Latinas, who suffer from cervical cancer at rates higher than all other ethnic and racial groups. The HHS announcement specifically mentions disparities in cervical cancer and the importance of providing information on prevention in linguistically and culturally appropriate ways. The announcement signals an acknowledgement of the role geographical challenges play in health disparities, the importance of securing privacy, and the importance of integrating community health workers and promotoras (who play a large role in connecting Latinas to health care information and services). And according to a recent Nielsen report, mobile technology is an increasingly important way Latinos access the internet, receive information, and connect to others.
We look forward to the implementation of the winning project and to connecting more Latinas to the information and services that will allow them to prevent cervical cancer. At the same time, NLIRH will also work to fight efforts to limit Latinas’ access to reproductive and sexual health services, in places like Texas and Florida. We will urge state lawmakers to fully implement the Affordable Care Act, which will increase access to screenings through its support of Community Health Centers, expansion of the Medicaid program, and by eliminating co-pays for screening services in private plans. And NLIRH will work to advance a standard of care that provides all Latinas, including LGBTQ Latinas, will all the possible options for preventing cervical cancer, including screenings, the HPV vaccine, and accurate sexual health information.