Testing a New Tool to Fight Cervical Cancer

Jacob Stocks Training

Training host Jacob Stocks fields questions from study participants as they review study documents and mSaada mobile application content. Photo by Hannah Stocks.

By Jacob Stocks, 2nd year Master of Science in Global Health student

Published July 3, 2019, last updated on April 21, 2020 under Voices of DGHI

This summer, I’m in Kisumu, Kenya, leading a pilot usability study of an integrated digital platform called mSaada, together with a small team of Duke undergraduate researchers and app developers and Kenya-based members of DGHI’s Center for Global Reproductive Health

The goal of this app is to help facilitate cervical cancer prevention through features such as patient education, protocol and counseling support for CHVs, results notification, service reminders and patient tracking. mSaada is placed in the hands of community health volunteers (CHVs) during human papilloma virus (HPV)-based cervical cancer screening,

Over the course of the summer, we’ll train CHVs on how to use mSaada, enable them to use it in a clinical setting and gather periodic feedback through quantitative questionnaires and structured in-depth interviews. We hope to gain a strong understanding of user experience, acceptability and feasibility of the mSaada platform within the context of Western Kenya.

My interest in this project is multifaceted. First, studying and working to combat a disease that specifically affects women aligns well with my general interest in women’s health. Second, my desire to discover and enhance existing disease prevention strategies is well suited for this project, as cervical cancer disproportionately and unnecessarily claims the lives of many women in low- and middle-income countries, such as Kenya. I also find the use of new and innovative methods to increase access and uptake of health services, such as mhealth approaches, to be promising. Additionally, the intersection of communicable and non-communicable disease, from HPV infection to cervical cancer development, is of particular interest to me. Finally, given my prior health-related travel experience in Ghana and Mexico, I wanted an opportunity to travel to a new place to broaden my worldview and enhance my understanding of the differences in approach to and delivery of care around the world.

A study participant works with a partner to practice using the mSaada mobile application. Photo by Jacob Stocks.

In addition to collecting data to inform my master’s thesis, I hope to learn more about the process of global health research as a whole. I want to gain a better understanding of all of the steps in the research process, from hypothesis development to data collection and analysis to results dissemination. 

Going beyond research, I hope to see firsthand what roles CHVs are playing in delivering clinical services. Throughout my fieldwork, I expect to gain a better understanding of the cervical cancer prevention, screening and treatment strategies being employed in Western Kenya. Finally, I’d like to develop professionally and gain management, flexibility and leadership skills as I lead the implementation of this project.

My involvement in the pilot study of mSaada has already begun to shape my future career interests. I’ve realized my genuine interest in the exploratory nature of research and hope to continue developing this passion in future professional studies. 

Although I’ve only been in Kisumu for one week, I’ve already had the opportunity to join in on meetings, visit clinical sites and attend a day-long, county-wide stakeholders meeting to discuss cervical cancer prevention, screening, treatment and palliation. I look forward to what the rest of my fieldwork experience holds and am excited to share my research with my fellow classmates, DGHI and the broad research community.

This post was originally published on the Center for Global Reproductive Health website and was edited and republished with permission.

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