Rural and Regional Health Research Institute, a world-class facility to tackle health inequalities

5 MAY 2022

Rural and Regional Health Research Institute, a world-class facility to tackle health inequalities

Charles Sturt University's new Rural and Regional Health Research Institute will work with communities to address the local burden of disease in lower socio-economic communities within rural, regional, and remote areas.

  • Charles Sturt University introduces Professor Allen Ross, MD, PhD, as the inaugural Executive Director of the Rural and Regional Health Research Institute (the Institute)
  • The Institute will partner with the Australian Government, NSW Health, Western Sydney University, Aboriginal Medical Services (AMSs), the research sector, and other local NGOs to co-design the health disparity research and address the local burden of disease  
  • The Institute aims to address both infectious and chronic health disparities in lower socio-economic communities within rural, regional, and remote areas

Charles Sturt University’s inaugural Executive Director of the newly established Rural and Regional Health Research Institute (the Institute) is laying a solid foundation to reduce health disparities between country and city people, via a ‘community-partnerships’ approach.

Professor of Medicine and Executive Director of the Institute, Professor Allen Ross is applying his extensive international experience in rural and remote health to establish an organisation that delivers regional, national, and international impact.

The Institute received $18 million over five years from the Australian Government to develop a world-class rural health and medical research facility that will support the needs of rural communities in Australia and beyond. It also has an additional funding commitment from Charles Sturt University.

The Institute will focus on conducting research that:

  • addresses First Nations people’s health inequities
  • improves the experience of ageing and aged care in rural communities
  • improves child development health outcomes
  • promotes consumer-driven rural health research
  • boosts clinical research capability and
  • enables research to improve health and medical service delivery in regional cities, rural towns, and remote communities.

It follows the establishment of the School of Rural Medicine at Charles Sturt in Orange in 2021, which is a partnership with Western Sydney University under the Australian Government’s Joint Program in Medicine.

“The core principles of the Institute will be grounded initially in existing data, after which we will gather new evidence that fleshes out the burden of disease in lower socioeconomic neighbourhoods,” Professor Ross said.

“By assessing community data, such as family income, postal codes, patient visits to their general practitioners, hospital discharge records, and pharmacy prescriptions, we can unearth chronic health issues in areas with the greatest need.

“The approach is simple and yet unique. The researchers come with no agenda and will work on chronic health issues as they find them.”

Professor Ross said Charles Sturt University is recruiting some of the world’s best researchers from both Australia and abroad to establish the Institute as a world-class facility for tackling rural, regional, and international health issues.

The institute presently has an 11-member Advisory Board, comprising a cross-section of Australian leaders in rural public health, medical research, and industry.  The Institute has also established a First Nations Table to ensure that research is conducted with First Nations communities and in a culturally appropriate manner.

“The Institute will invite and host significant research collaborations and conduct disease-specific cross-sectional surveys after an initial ecological assessment. Once we have determined the burden of disease in the community, we will need to set priorities and focus our efforts accordingly,” he said.

“We will work with community leaders, such as the local Aboriginal Medical Services, to identify chronic health issues of the highest priority."

Professor Ross said the process will be to identify the health issues first, to then match expertise and solutions with thereafter.

“Once we identify a particular health condition or health service that needs to be improved, we will assemble the collective expertise required to address the problem holistically.

“Issues related to poor housing, diet, smoking, drug and alcohol addiction are already well-known major social determinants of health in regional NSW.

“Our longitudinal research will allow us to address disease patterns over time which will assist us in pinpointing critical health issues as they evolve.  

“Our interventional research will allow us to test the latest drugs, vaccines, exercise programs, and dietary interventions to improve the health outcomes of the communities we work in and globally. We hope to offer the best and the latest quality of care to our patients.”

Professor Ross said a long-term goal of the Institute was to improve health service delivery at the community level and for such services to be evidence-based and focused on the specific community needs.

“Many community members feel that past research endeavours and consultation identified key health issues, but after the researchers left there were no tangible outcomes and the problems remained,” he said.

“We hope to work with communities for the long term because we know the problems are complex and it will require a long-term investment to resolve.”

Once the establishment phase of the Institute is complete in 2022, it will house approximately 15 staff and eight PhD students who will be based at Charles Sturt University in Orange.

Staff will provide support for rural health research scholarships and fellowships and contribute to advocacy on rural health issues while developing academic and clinical partnerships including practice-based research networks.

Background on Professor Allen Ross

Professor Ross’ expertise and interests reside in the realm of rural and remote health, global health, and health disparities. He grew up in rural Nova Scotia (Canada) before immigrating to Australia where he is now a proud citizen. Professor Ross lives in Orange with his wife and three children and considers it to be one of the best places to live in the world.

ENDS

Media Note:

To arrange interviews with Professor Allen Ross, please contact Trease Clarke at Charles Sturt Media on 0409 741 789 or via news@csu.edu.au


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