200286 Women's intimate health and hygiene in Little Haiti: Traditional therapy options from local Botanicas

Monday, November 9, 2009: 9:30 AM

Erin Kobetz, PhD, MPH , Department of Epidemiology and Public Health, University of Miami, Leonard Miller School of Medicine, Miami, FL
Janelle Menard, PhD, MA, MPH , Division of Cancer Prevention and Control, University of Miami Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center, Miami, FL
Jenny Blanco, MPH , Division of Cancer Prevention and Control, University of Miami Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center, Miami, FL
Betsy Barton, MA , Division of Cancer Prevention and Control, University of Miami Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Cneter, Miami, FL
Martine Lifleur, MPH, PA , Center for Haitian Studies, Miami, FL
James Hnatzysyzn, PhD , Hematology/Oncology, University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, Miami, FL

Culturally mediated feminine hygiene practices, such as douching and intravaginal drying, are associated with negative gynecological health outcomes, including an increased risk of sexually transmitted infections (STIs). Such practices are common throughout Africa, the Caribbean, Latin America, and also among select immigrant populations in the United States. As part of an ongoing Community-based Participatory Research (CBPR) initiative, we examined these practices in Little Haiti, the predominately Haitian neighborhood in Miami, Florida.


To document and describe feminine hygiene practices among Haitian women living in Little Haiti in an effort to understand, and ultimately attenuate, the excess STI burden in this neighborhood.


Community Health Workers (CHWs) canvassed area botanicas to learn about the various feminine hygiene products available in Little Haiti. CHWs purchased products, asking for detailed instruction for preparation and use from botanica owners or employees.


Preliminary findings indicate that Haitian women regularly engage in intravaginal cleansing using a variety of agents. Botanicas are sources of gynecological health information and serve as commercial suppliers of such agents, which include plants, branded imported products, antibiotics and chemical compounds. This practice is sustained, in part, by cultural notions of female cleanliness, that have direct implications for women's desirability, and subsequently, economic survival through dependence on male partners.


Data collected by CHWs contributed to the creation of a catalog of agents and modes of preparation. Future research must examine chemical properties and composition of agents, and determine their potential roles in increasing women's risk for STIs.

Learning Objectives:
Describe the association between feminine hygiene practices and risk of Sexually Transmitted Infections; Evaluate the significance of examining the relationship between intravaginal cleansing and STI acquisition in Little Haiti, Miami, Florida; Discuss the ethnographic methods used by Community Health Workers (CHWs) to better understand feminine hygiene practices in Little Haiti; and Assess study findings and implications for future research and intervention.

Presenting author's disclosure statement:

Qualified on the content I am responsible for because: I am currently an Assistant Professor in the Department of Epidemiology and Public Health at the University of Miami, Miller School of Medicine and serve as the Principal Investigator for the study. I have substantial experience with disparities-focused research, and have been involved in multiple community-based participatory research endeavors to understand racial differences in cancer outcomes.
Any relevant financial relationships? No

I agree to comply with the American Public Health Association Conflict of Interest and Commercial Support Guidelines, and to disclose to the participants any off-label or experimental uses of a commercial product or service discussed in my presentation.