Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center

UM/Sylvester Researcher Awarded Grant To Improve Cancer Screening In Haitian Community


The Dr. John T. Macdonald Foundation has awarded $25,000 to the University of Miami Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center to study and improve access to breast and cervical cancer screening and prevention in South Florida’s Haitian community. Erin Kobetz, Ph.D., M.P.H., research scientist at the Braman Family Breast Cancer Institute at UM/Sylvester, received the one-year grant from the Foundation to study and implement ways to improve cancer screening among Haitian women.

“We’re very, very grateful to the Dr. John T. Macdonald Foundation for supporting this initiative,” said Kobetz, also a research assistant professor of Epidemiology and Public Health. “Kim Greene, who is the executive director, really was a personal champion for this work and I appreciate her enthusiasm.”

The grant will help expand an existing collaboration, Sé ede Sé – Sisters Helping Sisters – which is a campus-community partnership between UM/Sylvester and the Haitian American Association Against Cancer (HAAAC) intended to reduce cultural, social and economic barriers to mammography and Pap tests among Haitian women. “There is significant distrust within the Haitian community to outsiders, and especially outsiders that are affiliated with institutions that they perceive to have authority,” said Kobetz. Sé ede Sé is also supported by the Women’s Fund of Miami-Dade County.

The backbone of the program is the use of lay health advisors, women from within Miami’s Haitian community, as the source for information and guidance. “Our preliminary findings, based on focus groups, was that most of the women felt that they would trust getting information from one of their friends or peers about health and that’s who they tended to turn to for health information,” said Kobetz. “So it seemed to us that there was already this natural tendency to discuss health within social networks which is consistent with the lay health advisor approach.”

In addition to having increased understanding of the Haitian community, like knowledge of the language and cultural traditions, lay health advisors often have higher credibility than those from outside the community. “With lay health advisors there is also the opportunity for repeated interaction,” said Kobetz. “A lay health advisor could say, hey, you should get a mammogram and sense some hesitancy to do so. But she will see that person at the grocery story the next week and mention it again. So there can be this sort of bombardment of messages.” Teaming with HAAAC, which was founded in 1997 to reduce the impact of cancer among Haitians in South Florida, was a natural starting place. HAAAC already has a relationship with UM/Sylvester’s Florida Comprehensive Cancer Control Initiative.

Previous studies using lay health advisors show that early successes can be contagious. “What you hope happens is, beyond your interaction with the lay health advisor, that this information starts to be disseminated around the social network in such a way that other friends and peers say things as well.” As a student Kobetz was part of a 10-year project to reach rural African-American women in North Carolina. They found that their lay health advisors stayed active educating the community even after the formal study concluded.

The Dr. John T. Macdonald Foundation Inc. is a private foundation based in Coral Gables whose mission is to provide funding for programs and projects designed to improve, preserve or restore both the health and health care of people living in South Florida. “We are delighted to be supporting Sé ede Sé, a project drawing upon the expertise of UM/Sylvester and the knowledge of HAAAC, a wonderful Haitian community-based organization focusing on the reduction of cancer among the Haitian population in Miami-Dade,” said Greene, of the Macdonald Foundation. “We are confident this project will benefit the Haitian women of our community.”

The Foundation has partnered with the University of Miami Leonard M. Miller School of Medicine for a major school health initiative in collaboration with the Miami-Dade County Health Department and Miami-Dade County Schools, and in creating the Miami GeneCure Diagnostics Lab and Dr. John T. Macdonald Center for Medical Genetics. Since 2000 the Foundation has pledged more than $18 million to the UM Miller School of Medicine.

UM/Sylvester was founded in 1992 to provide comprehensive cancer services and today serves as the hub for cancer-related research, diagnosis, and treatment at the University of Miami Leonard M. Miller School of Medicine. UM/Sylvester handles more than 1,300 inpatient admissions annually, performs 2,900 surgical procedures, and treats 3,000 new cancer patients. All UM/Sylvester physicians are on the faculty of the Miller School of Medicine, South Florida’s only academic medical center. In addition, UM/Sylvester physicians and scientists are engaged in more than 150 clinical trials and receive more than $31 million annually in research grants. UM/Sylvester at Deerfield Beach recently opened to better meet the needs of residents of Broward and Palm Beach counties. This 10,000-square-foot facility at I-95 and S.W. 10th Street offers appointments with physicians from six cancer specialties, complementary therapies from the Courtelis Center, and education and outreach events.

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