Rural health data lacking: researcher

Book to focus on women’s health | Submissions collected from academics, practitioners, nurses and social workers

Research is needed to determine how a move to larger farms and smaller, older communities is affecting rural women, says an academic from the University of Western Ontario.

Beverley Leipert, associate professor of nursing at the university, said it’s not just a matter of health-care delivery but also of extension.

Whether or not there’s a doctor in town is one matter, but how do health-care professionals promote diabetes control or proper nutrition in communities with fewer resources? And how do rural demographics influence the social supports available to women, who themselves play a role in the health of their families and communities?

Leipert said there isn’t just a shortfall in scholarships but also a funding shortage for researchers asking these questions.

“There’s never been much money for rural health research in this country and there’s virtually next to none now,” she said.

For example, the Prairie Women’s Health Centre of Excellence, which has studied rural, remote, northern and aboriginal women’s health issues since 1996, was one of six organizations under the Women’s Health Contribution Program to lose funding in the Conservative government’s 2012 budget.

“I’d be a fool to say I was surprised, given what else had been cut already, but (I’m) deeply, deeply disappointed because health is more than just health care and doctoring and nursing,” centre of excellence executive director Margaret Haworth-Brockman said in May.

“If people have good programs that are preventive and have good information that shows where systemic change can be made, that’s a long view of saving health-care dollars.”

Funding is also scarce from other federal sources, such as the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, which saw a cut to its budget, said Leipert, who grew up in Saskatchewan and has a background as a rural public health nurse there.

She’s one of the editors of Rural Women’s Health, a new book collecting research from academics, practitioners, social workers and nurses in Canada. There will also be a few international submissions.

“We’ve had rural women in this country for what, 400 years? I think it’s time we had a book on rural women’s health,” she said.

The book, which was five years in the making, faced its own funding challenges, she said.

It covers a variety of topics, including health, environment, gender politics and gender-based violence.

From chapters as seemingly disparate as “Perspectives of African Canadian Women Living in Remote and Rural Nova Scotia Communities” and “The Quality of Life of Elderly Ukrainian Women in Rural Saskatchewan” emerge a few unifying themes, said Leipert, former chair in rural women’s health research at UWO.

“There is a uniformity in that rural women’s health is receiving less and less support,” said Leipert, whose chapter looks at rural women’s organizations and how funding cuts have affected their ability to support and advocate for women’s health.

“The government has cut significant funding to any women’s health projects, never mind rural women. Rural women basically don’t have a voice.”

While it’s a scholarly book, she said the text is accessible to all audiences and offers a psychosocial and cultural perspective on the topic.

“It’s about promoting health. It’s not about illness. That’s an important theme,” said Leipert. “This is about health issues and promoting women’s health. It’s not about treating illness. It’s not a medical text.”

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