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Healthy Savannah’s Community Health Advocates Share Personal Stories in Promoting Awareness of the Human Papillomavirus (HPV) Vaccination Equity to Prevent Certain Cancers

(SAVANNAH, GA) If you had the power to prevent certain cancers in your family members, would you?

That’s the question Healthy Savannah is asking in a new outreach campaign intended to promote awareness and acceptance of the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine vaccine in Savannah’s Black and Hispanic communities.

Cervical cancer rates in Georgia currently average about 8 per 100,000 women, slightly higher than the national average but incidence rates in some Georgia counties are even higher. Among Black women, mortality rates are almost 1.5x as high as White women.

Kim Jackson-Allen is the wellness coordinator for the Savannah-Chatham School System and was one of 13 participants who completed Healthy Savannanh’s community health advocate (CHA) training held in May. Here, she looks through her new toolkit containing information and resources on the benefits of immunization in general and, specifically, the HPV vaccine in preventing certain cancers.

Under a new HPV Vaccination Equity Initiative grant bestowed in February by CHC: Creating Healthier Communities, Healthy Savannah has now expanded its award-winning Community Health Advocate (CHA) program to include the benefits of HPV vaccination. The program, established in 2021 to promote awareness, acceptance and acceptance of the COVID-19 vaccine, has since trained more than 80 CHAs who share science-based information and resources about all adult vaccines with people in their neighborhoods, jobs, schools, and at sporting events.

Since 2018, Healthy Savannah has been at the forefront of health equity initiatives as co-administrator of two five-year collaborative Racial & Ethnic Approaches to Community Health (REACH) grants totaling $8.5 million. The goals of the first initiative were to improve access to nutritious food, develop systemic change to create safe places for physical activity, and promote easy access to local resources. The second initiative added breastfeeding and adult immunizations and continues to emphasize the importance of policy, systems, and environmental change toward health equity.

“Healthy Savannah’s goal with this new initiative is to bring about a culture of acceptance of the HPV vaccine in Savannah’s priority communities,” said Dr. Elsie Smalls, operations manager. “Research has shown that if the rate were to rise to 90% or better, HPV-related cervical cancer could be drastically reduced.”

After hosting a listening session on April 18, Healthy Savannah invited current, former and prospective CHAs to a training session on May 2. In the weeks following, 13 completed the training requirements and are now serving in their communities to share information about the benefits of the HPV vaccine in preventing certain cancers.

“My family experienced the loss of a loved one due to HPV,” said Charice Stroud, who was originally trained as a CHA under the COVID-19 program and returned for HPV Vaccination Equity training in May. “My hope is to help other families avoid that pain by sharing my story along with the good news that this vaccine can prevent certain cancers.”

Melba Screven, one of Healthy Savannah’s newest community health advocates (CHA), is excited to receive a toolkit of materials so she can begin engaging with the community about the benefits of immunization in general and, specifically, the HPV vaccine in preventing certain cancers. Now retired and looking to use her skills in service to the community, Screven brings a wealth of knowledge about immunization from her work at the Health Department. She was one of 13 participants who completed Healthy Savannah’s CHA training in May.

“As a social worker, I have been fortunate to develop a better understanding of the HPV vaccine through my training as a CHA,” said Leslie Walker, a social worker with the Savannah-Chatham County Public School System who had also participated in the initial program. “I want every parent to know they have the power to give this protection from certain cancers to their children.”

The CHAs are also helping connect community members, many of whom may be uninsured and underinsured, to free or low-cost programs offering HPV vaccines, which help protect individuals ages 9 to 45 against certain cancers including cervical, vaginal, vulvar, anal and oral.

Smalls recommends consulting with your physician about the recommended HPV vaccine. Several Chatham County clinics offer no-cost vaccines or can help the underinsured and uninsured connect with resources. They include Coastal Health District’s Eisenhower ClinicJ. C. Lewis Primary Health Care and Curtis V Cooper Primary Health Care. For more information, visit or visit the online HERO database at, click on “health care,” and select “low-cost medical services.

Healthy Savannah is already planning another round of listening and training sessions in the months ahead. After completing the training, CHAs will receive a $600 incentive for performing community outreach activities to increase access and awareness and share information about the benefits of the HPV vaccine.

For more information about the CHA program or to attend a future listening or training session, visit For more information about the HPV Vaccination Equity Initiative, email Patricia Merritt, program coordinator, at

In February 2024, the CHC: Creating Healthier Communities, awarded a one-year $150,000 grant to Healthy Savannah to promote vaccine equity to prevent cancer and support new and expanded community-driven solutions to address social and other factors that negatively impact access to cancer prevention interventions for disproportionately affected populations in the Savannah area. Specifically, the grant will support Healthy Savannah’s initiatives in developing, implementing, and bringing resources and policy attention to solutions that break down barriers of mistrust in the healthcare system, skepticism of vaccine effectiveness and lack of awareness about vaccine access and the availability of prevention interventions for certain cancers. Healthy Savannah is one of only three organizations across the state of Georgia to be awarded this grant and is adapting its award-winning Community Health Advocate (CHA) program and working with more than 200 community partners and organizations to foster sustainable health equity in this space. Healthy Savannah developed the CHA program during the first of two five-year CDC Racial and Ethnic Approaches to Community Health (REACH) grants it currently administers with the YMCA of Coastal Georgia. The methodology uses an “upstream” approach to foster sustainable health equity among racial and ethnic minority populations in low-wealth neighborhoods in areas of nutrition, physical activity and the reduction of chronic diseases. In July 2022, Healthy Savannah received the CDC’s 2022 REACH Lark Galloway-Gilliam Award for Advancing Health Equity Challenge. The award recognizes extraordinary individuals and entities whose work has contributed to advancing health equity.

Marjorie Young
Carriage Trade Public Relations® Inc.

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