STIGMAS surrounding women’s health must be addressed in order to encourage people from ethnic minorities to attend smear test appointments, a leading charity has said.

In a joint letter with several official health bodies and groups supporting women’s rights, Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust has urged both health boards and governments to look at ways to remove such a stigma.

The Glasgow Times Don’t Fear the Smear campaign is calling on all women and people with cervixes to come forward for the medically necessary test in order to provide the best defence against cervical cancer.

A previous YouGov study revealed Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) women were in need of further education with around 70% of those questioned aged 20 to 65 years old aware that a smear exam is carried out to check for pre-cancerous abnormalities in the cervix, compared with 91% of white women.

While only 28% of BAME women said they’d be comfortable discussing cervical screening with a male GP compared with 45% of white women.

A total of 30% of BAME said more education surrounding the test and its importance would encourage them to attend.

The charity’s letter states: “Stigma and shame perpetuate health inequities by deterring people from seeking care, increasing stress around health concerns and lowering self-esteem, undermining the ability to receive quality care. We also understand that healthcare providers’ experience of stigma contributes to stress, burn-out and attrition.

“As organisations at the forefront of women’s health, we see the negative impact that stigma has on health care delivery and outcomes on a daily basis.

“Stigma in women’s health can lead to denial of care, or unequal care for individuals or groups, for example, young people being denied comprehensive sexual and reproductive health services; patients or healthcare providers being labelled or stereotyped, for example, obese people being framed as lazy or of low intelligence; poor mental and physical health, low self-worth, self-esteem and shame among patients and healthcare providers, for example, people experiencing stress incontinence or other gynaecological conditions withdrawing or feeling anxious about engaging in social situations; the implementation of policies, guidelines and care pathways that are unsuitable or overly onerous for stigmatised groups or conditions, for example imposing waiting times or the requirement to obtain spousal approval to have an abortion.”

It comes after the Glasgow Times previously reported an expert in behavioural science and health was investigating why women from ethnic minorities are one of the least likely groups to attend the vital examination.

Professor Katie Robb explained a study had been conducted into women who attend one of the city’s mosques to determine their reasons for non-attendance – and how to combat them.

The analysis of the project is ongoing, but charities such as Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust have urged for broader action to be taken to ensure a rise in the numbers.

In a bid to encourage women, the organisation has revealed a number of tips designed to help make those from different backgrounds feel at ease.

For more information on how to make the test more comfortable, visit Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust.