For decades, the Office of Community Outreach & Engagement at the O’Neal Comprehensive Cancer Center at UAB has partnered with the Alabama Comprehensive Cancer Control Coalition to educate communities about cancer and ensure access to screening and treatment options. Through this partnership, the office and the coalition have worked to pool their resources and bolster their outreach efforts with the goal of reducing the impact and burden of cancer for the people of Alabama.

Alabama Comprehensive Cancer Control Coalition

The coalition focuses on lung, skin, breast, prostate and cervical cancers and advocates for HPV vaccination. Lakita Hawes, public health educator at the Alabama Department of Public Health, says the coalition’s mission directly complements the goals of the Office of Community Outreach & Engagement.

“It lines up perfectly. We are two agencies searching for the same goal,” Hawes said. “That is why the partnership is strong, because we are united in a single goal to fight cancer.”

The Alabama Comprehensive Cancer Control Coalition is a stand-alone agency that receives operational assistance from the Alabama Department of Public Health Comprehensive Cancer Control Program. The statewide network includes doctors, organizations, medical groups, cancer patients and cancer survivors.

Members regularly collaborate on cancer outreach initiatives. For example, in late 2020, women in 13 counties across Alabama gained better access to education and screening for cervical cancer through the ADPH Family Planning Community Education and Outreach Pilot. Through this collaboration, OCOE provided a team of community health workers who sought to increase cervical cancer screenings in Barbour, Bibb, Blount, Bullock, Butler, Chilton, Dallas, Fayette, Lowndes, Macon, Shelby, Walker and Winston counties.

Community health workers educated their own neighbors about the services provided by local health departments, including cervical cancer screening and HPV testing.

Office of Community Outreach & Engagement staff members are now playing a major role, alongside the coalition, in the creation of the state cancer plan for 2022-2027. Both OCOE Program Director Claudia Hardy, MPA, and OCOE Health Initiatives Manager Rochelle Wallace are active in the drafting process.

“Rochelle and Claudia have been especially helpful in writing this plan,” Hawes said. “This is a collaborative document that lays out long-term guidelines. It includes fundamental lifestyle changes, it encourages cancer screening and vaccinations, and it is divided into different sections. It also has goals and objectives and strategies that allow us to reach those goals.”

Wallace also serves as vice chair of the coalition’s prevention committee.

“Serving on the Alabama Comprehensive Cancer Control Coalition gives us an opportunity to collaborate and learn from others who are also dedicated to serving our state by eliminating barriers and cancer disparities,” she said. “Prevention, early detection and treatment are at the core of why we exist as the Office of Community Outreach & Engagement, and our membership on the coalition helps us to better fulfil that mission.”

In 2022, in addition to a new state plan, the Alabama Comprehensive Cancer Control Coalition will work to increase HPV cultural competency among pediatricians and family medicine providers to increase vaccination rates, particularly in Alabama’s Black Belt and among Black or African American populations.

Hawes says it is recommended that children and teenagers between the ages of 9 and 17 receive the vaccine. 

“If you educate your providers, they are more influential in promoting and educating parents on why it is important to provide this vaccination for their children,” Hawes said. 

This story originally ran in the January 2022 issue of Community Connections, the monthly newsletter of the Office of Community Outreach & Engagement at the O’Neal Comprehensive Cancer Center at UAB.