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Cultural Context and Health Literacy: Human Papillomavirus


Medical research has shown that the human papillomavirus (HPV) can effectively prevent cervical cancer among women (Boyce and Holmes, 2012). However, certain racial groups do not use this vaccine because of cultural attitudes and beliefs (Luque et al., 2010). This paper explores this issue, in detail, by explaining the difference between health literacy and cultural awareness. Similarly, this study explores how these cultural attitudes and beliefs influence the public health issue.

Public Health Issue

This paper chooses the failure of Latino and Hispanic women to use the HPV vaccine to prevent cervical cancer, as a serious public health concern. Shrouded in social beliefs and attitudes, cultural attitudes and beliefs have made such women vulnerable to cervical cancer, STIs, and HIV (Vaccarella, 2006). This public health issue highlights the interchange between health literacy and cultural awareness.

Difference between Health Literacy and Cultural Awareness

Health literacy refers to a person’s ability to understand, decipher, and communicate important health information that could lead to changes in health outcomes (CDC, 2014). Comparatively, cultural awareness is the sensitivity to community beliefs and values (when proposing different health interventions). The difference between health literacy and cultural awareness could lead to different types of awareness. For example, cultural awareness focuses on interventions that apply to a community’s attitudes and beliefs that predispose them to negative health outcomes (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, n.d.).

Similarly, such interventions only yield customized health interventions that address a community’s cultural values. In my experience as a public health practitioner, I have encountered instances when health literacy and cultural awareness clash. Often, cultural awareness impedes the realization of positive health outcomes through limited health literacy programs. The conflicting interests have always created a delicate balance between public health education and cultural sensitivity.

How Cultural Differences in Health and Beliefs Influence the Selected Public Health Issue

Cultural attitudes and beliefs affect public health because they influence people’s perceptions about personal health. Indeed, as Fernandez et al. (2009) observes, cultural attitudes and beliefs provide the foundation for schemata used to process different types of health-related data. In this regard, it is unsurprising when many medical research experts highlight how culture shapes people’s responses to illnesses and treatment (Fernandez et al., 2009).

This analogy applies to the failure of Hispanic women to use HPV vaccination as a preventive measure for cervical cancer. Their beliefs about sexuality and gender norms affect their perception of this vaccine. For example, Luque et al. (2010) found out that most young Mexican women, who are in marital relationships with migrant husbands, believe that trust, intimacy, and faithfulness are the basis of an ideal marriage. Based on this belief, such women do not want to use condoms or take preventive care measures against sexually transmitted infections (STIs) (Fernandez et al., 2009). Therefore, such women are vulnerable to STIs, HIV, and cervical cancer.

Social constraints and structural factors also reinforce the social beliefs and attitudes of young Hispanic women about using the HPV vaccine as a preventive measure against cervical cancer. For example, Fernandez et al. (2009) highlight the role that immigrant status, availability of health insurance, and access to health care play in influencing HPV adoption among young women. Additionally, such women also fear social stereotyping when they seek such preventive health measures (Fernandez et al., 2009). These social constraints impede information-seeking behaviors about the HPV vaccine among this group of women.


This paper has shown that cultural beliefs and attitudes have greatly affected how young Hispanic women perceive their sexual health. In turn, such perceptions have shaped their perceptions of cancer treatment. Attitudes about gender roles, marriage, and sexuality explain why this group of young women does not embrace the HPV vaccination as a cancer prevention measure. Therefore, public health officials need to adopt a multifaceted approach when promoting positive health behaviors within this demographic. Particularly, they must sensitize this population group about the need to overcome cultural barriers and seek positive health behaviors.


Boyce, T., & Holmes, A. (2012). Addressing Health Inequalities in the Delivery of Human Papillomavirus Vaccination Programme: Examining the role of the School Nurse. Plose One, 7(9), 1-8.

CDC. (2014). Learn About Health Literacy. Web.

Fernandez, H. E., McCurdy, S. A., Arvey, S. R., Tyson, S. K., Morales-Campos, D., Floesr, B., & Sanderson, M. (2009). HPV knowledge, attitudes, and cultural beliefs among Hispanic men and women living on the Texas-Mexico Border. Ethn Health, 14(6), 607–624.

Luque, J., Castaneda, H., Tyson, D., Vargas, N., Proctor, & Maede, C. (2010). HPV Awareness among Latina Immigrants and Anglo-American Women in the Southern United States: Cultural Models of Cervical cancer Risk Factors and Beliefs. NAPA Bulletin, 34(1), 84-104.

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (n.d.). Culture, language, and health literacy. Web.

Vaccarella, S., Franceschi, S., Herrero, R., Muñoz, N., Snijders, P. J. F., Clifford, G. M., Meijer, C. J. L. M. (2006). Sexual behavior, condom use, and human papillomavirus: A pooled analysis of the IARC human papillomavirus prevalence surveys. Cancer Epidemiology Biomarkers & Prevention, 15(2), 326–333.

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StudyKraken. (2022, April 9). Cultural Context and Health Literacy: Human Papillomavirus. Retrieved from


StudyKraken. (2022, April 9). Cultural Context and Health Literacy: Human Papillomavirus.

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"Cultural Context and Health Literacy: Human Papillomavirus." StudyKraken, 9 Apr. 2022,

1. StudyKraken. "Cultural Context and Health Literacy: Human Papillomavirus." April 9, 2022.


StudyKraken. "Cultural Context and Health Literacy: Human Papillomavirus." April 9, 2022.


StudyKraken. 2022. "Cultural Context and Health Literacy: Human Papillomavirus." April 9, 2022.


StudyKraken. (2022) 'Cultural Context and Health Literacy: Human Papillomavirus'. 9 April.

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