Open Access Research article

Differences in patterns of high-risk human papillomavirus infection between urban and rural low-resource settings: cross-sectional findings from Mali

Nicholas H Schluterman1, Samba O Sow12, Cheick B Traore3, Kamate Bakarou3, Rokiatou Dembelé2, Founé Sacko3, Patti E Gravitt4 and J Kathleen Tracy1*

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Epidemiology and Public Health, University of Maryland School of Medicine, Baltimore, MD, USA

2 Centre Pour Le Developpement Des Vaccins, Bamako, Mali

3 Institut National de Recherche en Santé Publique, Bamako, Mali

4 Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, Baltimore, MD, USA

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BMC Women's Health 2013, 13:4  doi:10.1186/1472-6874-13-4

Published: 6 February 2013



The burden of cervical cancer is disproportionately high in low-resource settings. With limited implementation of human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccines on the horizon in the developing world, reliable data on the epidemiology of high-risk HPV (HR-HPV) infection in distinct geographic populations is essential to planners of vaccination programs. The purpose of this study was to determine whether urban patterns of HR-HPV occurrence can be generalized to rural areas of the same developing country, using data from Mali, West Africa, as an example.


Urban and rural women in Mali participated in a structured interview and clinician exam, with collection of cervical samples for HPV DNA testing, to determine HR-HPV prevalence and correlates of infection. Correlates were assessed using bivariate analysis and logistic regression.


A total of 414 women (n=202 urban women; n=212 rural women) were recruited across both settings. The prevalence of HR-HPV infection in rural women was nearly twice that observed in urban women (23% v. 12%). Earlier age of sexual debut and fewer pregnancies were associated with HR-HPV infection among urban women, but not rural women. Twenty-six percent of urban women who had sexual intercourse by age 14 had an HR-HPV infection, compared to only 9% of those who had later sexual debut (p<0.01). Overall, age, income, and polygamy did not appear to have a relationship with HR-HPV infection.


Compared to urban women, rural women were significantly more likely to be infected with high-risk HPV. The patterns and risk factors of HR-HPV infection may be different between geographic areas, even within the same developing country. The high prevalence in both groups suggests that nearly all rural women and most urban women in Mali will be infected with HR-HPV during their lifetime, so the effects of risk factors may not be statistically apparent. To control HPV and cervical cancer in West Africa and the rest of the developing world, planners should prioritize vaccination in high-burden areas.

Uterine cervical cancer; Reproductive health; HPV prevalence; Mali