Appalachia is home to more than 20 million people, yet researchers often overlook the area. Dr. Tania Basta is trying to change that.
Basta is a Fordham University HIV Prevention Research Ethics Training Institute (RETI) Fellow, and is working on a mentored research project on HIV testing in rural Appalachia. She was recently honored with the American Public Health Association’s (APHA) Excellence in Abstract Submission Award for her abstract entitled “Factors influencing HIV testing among individuals living in rural Appalachia.” She will present her research at the APHA’s annual meeting in Boston in November.
An Associate Professor in the Department of Social and Public Health at Ohio University, Basta lives in Athens, Ohio – the heart of Appalachian Ohio. Prior to moving to Athens, she lived in Atlanta, Georgia and worked at Positive Impact, Inc., a non-profit which provides mental health services for low-income individuals living with or affected by HIV/AIDS, while she worked on her Ph.D. At this time, she became interested in how health behaviors, such as exercise and nutrition, could increase the quality of life of for individuals with HIV. Using the mental health data collected at this organization, Basta began to publish her findings after she started her position at Ohio University.
“When I moved to Athens, I, like many other Americans, had very little knowledge of Appalachia and had no idea that Ohio had Appalachian counties,” Basta explained.
“However, after moving to Athens, OH, located in the heart of Appalachian Ohio, I became interested in Appalachian health. In 2010, I become the Associate Director of the Appalachian Rural Health Institute (ARHI), due to my experience in community-based participatory research (CBPR), and it was at this time that I began to focus my research on Appalachian rural health. Since I live in Appalachia now, I am committed to increasing the health-related quality of life of individuals living in Appalachia. And, in doing so, I hope to educate other researchers and policy makers about the health status and needs of rural Appalachian residents.”
According to Basta, because Appalachia has many unique cultural characteristics, it cannot be assumed that public health interventions that have worked in other areas will be successful in Appalachia. As a result, Basta believes that it is essential to conduct research in the area in order to assess not only the needs of the region, but also the factors that inhibit and facilitate health, so that appropriate interventions can be designed, implemented and evaluated.
While Basta does not claim that her research in Appalachia is generalizable to all rural Appalachians or Americans, she thinks that it certainly will be applicable to many of the individuals living in the region.
“There are so many health disparities between the Appalachian region and other parts of the U.S., as well as health disparities within Appalachia, that we have to start to work toward increasing health outcomes in this region,” Basta said.
Basta is one of seven Fordham University HIV Prevention RETI Fellows from the second cohort, which began the program in 2012. Her faculty mentor is Program Director, Dr. Celia B. Fisher, director of the Center for Ethics Education at Fordham University. Basta believes that she has learned so much from being an RETI fellow, and that the mentoring, training and networking provided by the program has been invaluable.
“I have been able to work with so many brilliant, interesting people, that it motivates me to want to learn more and work harder in my current position,” Basta said. “I know that the connections I have made at Fordham will last me a lifetime.”