York study finds HIV/AIDS research and outreach are lacking in rural areas

A new study led by a York University researcher identifies barriers to community outreach for people living with HIV/AIDS, with the urban-rural divide as a recurring theme.

In a provincewide survey, researchers found that organizations serving both urban and rural areas had too many competing demands to participate in community-based research projects, often lacking funding and staff resources for such initiatives.

"Ironically, the organizations serving both urban and rural areas are often the only resources in a large geographical area for those living with HIV/AIDS," says the study’s lead author, Sarah Flicker (right), a professor in York’s Faculty of Environmental Studies. "They’re simply spread too thin for research projects. But research is so important – it’s what allows you to understand the community you’re serving," she says.

The study, "Community-based research in AIDS-service organizations: what helps and what doesn’t?", surveyed executive directors and community-based research coordinators of AIDS service organizations across Ontario. It queried four major areas: organizational demographics; research activities; barriers and facilitators to community-based research; and the role stakeholders play in such initiatives. 

It found that 80 per cent of organizations in Ontario were involved in at least one community-based research project in the past five years, with funding and organizational resources the most commonly cited barriers to participation. Organizations indicated a need to broaden the types of funding available, in order to accommodate startups, staff and research assistant training and development, capacity building and planning. 

Another concern was the apparent disconnect between research and real-world impact. "Organizations are saying they need to develop mechanisms to give community members a stake in research," Flicker says. "It’s clear there are real barriers preventing individuals living with HIV from taking leadership roles in research. We need to find ways to address that." 

The study appears in the January issue of AIDS Research. Co-authors include researchers from McMaster University, the Ontario HIV Treatment Network, Women’s College Hospital, the University of Ontario Institute of Technology and the University of Toronto.