Zobi Barok is part of the Cancer Wise Leeds team. The team, funded by Yorkshire Cancer Research, is part of a three-year programme that aims to significantly improve bowel, breast, and cervical cancer screening rates across Leeds and also raise awareness of cancer signs, symptoms, and risk factors.
As part of her role, Zobi focuses on increasing screening participation among culturally diverse communities. We spoke to her about the programme and the difference it is making in Leeds.
Zobi, who has spent more than two decades working to address health inequalities within diverse communities, brings a wealth of experience to the Cancer Wise Leeds team. She is determined to increase cancer screening participation amongst diverse communities, particularly among people within culturally diverse backgrounds, including the South Asian, African Caribbean and migrant communities living in Leeds.
She said: “What we really needed to do was target those communities who do not attend screening due to cultural and religious sensitivities.
Data shows that participation in cancer screening is generally lower in people from ethnically diverse backgrounds, compared to people from White populations.
Zobi continued: “It became clear, as we built up our research, that there was a high number of South Asian women not attending their cervical screenings, particularly those in lower age groups in areas with a significant South Asian population.”
Zobi and the Cancer Wise Leeds team carried out an audit on cervical screening participation in Leeds. This found that 6 in 10 people from ethnically diverse backgrounds, who were eligible for cervical screening, attended their appointment compared to 7 in 10 people who were recorded as White or ‘Ethnicity unknown’.
The reasons for this are complex, Zobi explains.
“One of the major barriers is a lack of awareness, so it’s important to raise awareness by talking openly about cancer. There are also things like language barriers that prevent people from attending their screenings.”
Tackling these issues has been a focus for Zobi, and much of her daily work is centred around developing ideas to engage communities and introduce new measures that ensure screenings are accessible to all.
One of the methods used by the team involved a follow-up phone call with people who had not responded to their screening invitation the person’s preferred language.
This allowed the team to find out what was stopping them from attending, talk them through what happens during the screening appointment and address any uncertainties.
Using a person-centred approach like this has, Zobi reports, made a big difference. For example, at one GP practice, out of the 20 people contacted about bowel screening, nine went to make an appointment.
Zobi said: “I recently attended a workshop where every person had to say what their biggest achievement was, and a woman said that for her, it was attending her first screening. It was great to be able to connect with her and it reinforces why I love this role.”
Every person who takes up the offer of screening following support from the team is a reminder of why programmes like Cancer Wise Leeds are so important.
“My passion for diverse communities has helped us think about some of the barriers to taking part in screening. Some people don’t use social media. Some people aren’t literate. We need to remember this when we encourage people to attend their screenings,” Zobi continued.
"For example, information videos recorded in English are only of use to those who speak and understand the language. Adding subtitles in other languages makes them more accessible, but only to those who can read their first language. A far more effective way to reach diverse audiences is to dub videos in first languages to make sure everyone can understand the message.”
Zobi and the team also use images that people from ethnically diverse groups can relate to in screening information materials, such as posters, leaflets and social media posts.
“At the centre of it all, our goal has been to develop and create new innovative ideas to best support the people of Leeds. Had we not had the funding from Yorkshire Cancer Research, we wouldn’t have been able to provide this support.
“I believe that everything we have done will leave a legacy. We hope that in the next few years there will be an increase in people attending their screenings because they have a better understanding of why it is so important – it could save their life.”