PEOPLE living in rural communities are getting a raw deal when it comes to health research. But this week, academics from the University of Newcastle and the University of New England are among an alliance of researchers, organisations and institutions coming together to collaborate and advocate for better outcomes.
Professor Christine Jorm, the director of NSW Regional Health Partners, said the inaugural Spinifex Symposium in Alice Springs on Tuesday and Wednesday aimed to bring together rural researchers and organisations from across Australia to discuss the best ways to support small communities, and each other. She hoped a new rural medical research alliance would allow them to share ideas and speak with "one voice" to improve health outcomes for people living in rural communities.
"The current situation is unfair," she said. "Even though 30 percent of Australians live in rural regions and they have a massive burden of disease - it is 1.3 times that of urban dwellers - at the moment only 2.4 per cent of NHMRC funding goes towards research that is designed to benefit them.
"Even with that 2.4 per cent, a lot of it won't be going into regional communities. People are flying out from Sydney - doing a few things, and flying back home again - so there is a real failure to involve rural clinicians and their patients properly in research. We already know rural people are doing it tough - especially at the moment - and some of the money we need to direct their way is research money to solve their health problems and improve their outcomes."
Building sustainable communities, access, and using health technology would be among the topics addressed.
Professor Jenny May, the Tamworth-based director of the University of Newcastle's department of rural health, said the symposium was an opportunity to collaborate, identify overlaps in research, and make the most of opportunities to "increase the spend on rural health research".
"I have a particular interest in ensuring it supports rural researchers who work 'in place', so that people who live in rural areas are part of the solution," she said. "Lived experience and context is a huge advantage when developing models to deliver rural health care."
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