Outreach – meaning engaging people in their own environments, on their own terms, to help them improve their health and well-being – has been a major feature of the Burnet Institute’s epidemiological research program for more than two decades.
Here is a short excerpt of the feature story that appeared in the latest edition of IMPACT.
People who inject drugs are among the most vulnerable and marginalised Australians. Compared with the rest of the population, they experience higher rates of incarceration, poverty, homelessness, ill-health, educational disadvantage, unemployment, violence and sexual abuse, social disconnectedness, and family breakup.
Head of Burnet’s Centre for Population Health, Professor Margaret Hellard points out that using illicit drugs such as heroin or methamphetamines can be as much a response to these social, health and economic problems as a cause of them.
“The poor health status of people who inject drugs is one of Burnet’s key research priorities, especially their risk of drug overdose and exposure to infectious diseases such as hepatitis B and C,” Professor Hellard said.
OUTREACH AND RESEARCH
The Burnet’s Centre for Population Health works with vulnerable people in Melbourne and elsewhere in Victoria through several field-based research projects.
The largest of these projects is the Melbourne Injecting Drug Users Cohort Study (MIX). MIX involves six field researchers who travel across Melbourne to locations where people who inject drugs congregate.
The brainchild of Burnet’s Professor Paul Dietze, MIX’s chief investigator, the study aims to radically improve our understanding of the life trajectories of people who inject drugs, with particular emphasis on their use of health services and patterns of hepatitis B and C infection.
“With over 700 participants, MIX is the largest cohort study (following the same group of people over time) of people who inject drugs ever conducted in Australia, giving it a unique ability to make accurate measurements and draw valid conclusions,” he said.
MIX began in 2008 and builds on previous long-running studies, so Burnet’s researchers are well known on Melbourne’s streets.
Professor Dietze said, “This recognition factor, the services offered by our researchers, and the knowledge that we apply the highest standards of ethical practice, give us access to disadvantaged populations that are simply impossible with traditional epidemiological approaches.”
Find out more about our MIX study and the Outreach project in the 2012 Summer edition of IMPACT.