Nursing Ph.D. graduate works to improve understanding of cervical cancer causes

Working as a nurse and midwife in her home country of Nigeria, Chigozie Nkwonta remembers treating two teenage girls who died of cervical cancer. She knew those deaths were preventable with education and treatment.

Those cases, along with other women she took care of in Nigeria, inspired her to pursue further research and earn a doctorate from the University of South Carolina College of Nursing.

“Before I moved here, I lost young women to cervical cancer. So that was what I focused on during my Ph.D. at USC,” she says. “My whole goal of coming here was that I might be able to help and at least mentor younger nurses in Nigeria.”

At South Carolina, she studied HPV and cervical cancer prevention through educational interventions, with the goal to increase HPV vaccinations and cervical cancer screenings in Nigeria. HPV, or the human papillomavirus, is a common sexually transmitted infection that can cause cervical and other cancers.

“In Nigeria, in most of the society, the decisions are made by men, and women are to be submissive to men. It’s the husband, the kids, and after the kids, it’s the women and the mothers,” she says. “So, you find poor health outcomes or death.”

In Nigeria, where she did her undergraduate and master’s programs, her research work focused on postpartum hemorrhage, as she worked to improve the high maternal mortality rates that are attributed to poverty and the lack of accessible health care services.

And while most people in the country are familiar with cervical cancer, many don’t know that HPV can cause the disease. After her doctoral work doing interventions that explained HPV infection, more people have understood the causes of cervical cancer and how the HPV vaccine can help prevent the disease.

My whole goal of coming here was that I might be able to help and at least mentor younger nurses in Nigeria.

Chigozie Nkwonta,  Ph.D. graduate, College of Nursing

Now living in Atlanta and working on a post-doc at New York University, Nkwonta’s work looks at reducing stigma among people living with HIV along with interventions to improve treatment adherence and reduce substance abuse.

She says she would like to continue her research work on women’s health, either as a university faculty member or working for a government entity or another organization, continuing a path that went through the University of South Carolina.

“I chose South Carolina because of the scholarship they gave me, but also USC gave me the option of focusing on what I wanted to do and not just choosing what other faculty are already doing and working at that,” she says. “I think that I chose the perfect place, and I'm happy I did.”

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