New UniSA study harnesses local knowledge to boost rural heath

People living in rural areas make up almost a quarter of the State’s total population, yet their health outcomes are significantly lower than those in metropolitan areas.

It’s an unnerving reality, but one that researchers at the University of South Australia hope to address in a new research project that draws on the expertise of rural communities – specifically, rural volunteers – to help identify ways to improve local health.

Conducted by UniSA researchers -Associate Professor James Dollman, Dr. Alyson Crozier, Dr. Kate Gunn, and honours student Bianca Polson ­­­- the new study will explore rural South Australians’ perspectives on volunteering for health promotion in their local communities.

The research team is currently looking to talk with people in the Murray Mallee region and surrounds, specifically, Karoonda, Lameroo, Pinnaroo, Tailem Bend and Loxton.

Polson says she wants to discover if rural people’s passion for volunteering could help improve health outcomes in their community.

“These townships enjoy extremely high rates of volunteering compared to the average for South Australia,” Polson says.

Volunteers play a vital role in the social fabric of remote, rural and regional communities. They also know what works and what doesn’t work for their communities – and it’s this that we want to draw upon in our research.

“Evidence shows that volunteering can improve the connections between communities and health providers, and that can provide excellent outcomes for the health of community members, health professionals, and the volunteers themselves.

“By talking with rural people, we’re hoping to improve understanding about the ins-and-outs of volunteering in rural communities, including peoples’ motivations to volunteer, what works well, what doesn’t work, and how volunteering could potentially improve health outcomes in these locations.

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