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Professor's research focuses on rural health, challenges

Professor Wiley Jenkins
Kyle Abraham/NPR Illinois
Prof. Wiley Jenkins

Professor Wiley Jenkins examines cancer disparities between rural and urban areas, substance use trends in rural areas, and cancer-associated sexually transmitted infections. His findings suggest that HPV-associated cancers are increasing at a rate of almost 1% each year in rural areas, while other forms of cancer are declining in incidence.

Jenkins is the Interim Chair of the Department of Population Science and Policy and a research professor in the Epidemiology and Biostatistics division at SIU School of Medicine.

When discussing his education background, Jenkins admits that his undergraduate education in the basic sciences laid the foundation for his current policy science research.

Additionally, the increased prevalence of polysubstance use among drug users has made seeking recovery more challenging to navigate. While suboxone can be used to treat opiate dependence, a medicinal corollary does not exist for methamphetamine addiction. According to Jenkins, sometimes the polysubstance use is unintentional. “There are a number of individuals who self-report use of methamphetamine, but deny use of fentanyl or opiates at all. Yet, when we acquire a urine based toxicological screen, we find
fentanyl. That is a surprise to them.”

Jenkins believes in lending a judgment-free ear to the groups his research focuses on.

“We have asked rural LGBTQ+ to meet with us as a group on a regular basis and discuss with us what matters to them. How can our work be beneficial to them?”

In conjunction with his population studies, Jenkins works closely with LGBTQ+ individuals and illicit substance users through community advisory groups to inform the trajectory of his current
work. Rural America is not homogenous, and these outreach programs are a consistent reminder of that.

Jenkins thanks the partnering institutions who assist in collecting data necessary for his work, such as health departments across Illinois and local charity groups.

Kyle is a student reporter for NPR Illinois.
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