Before coming to Canada to complete his PhD studies in epidemiology and biostatistics, Mostafa Shokoohi had been quite involved in many research projects in Iran. Notably, in collaboration with his colleagues at the HIV/STI Surveillance Research Center, a WHO collaborating Center for HIV Surveillance, several national and sub-national projects were presented to the Ministry of Health in Iran with hopes that it would lead to the establishment of preventative guidelines for marginalized populations at risk for HIV infection.
With a keen interest in studying the behaviours and health determinants of those living with HIV, Shokoohi has been working on HIV-centred research for approximately six years.
In this Q&A, he discusses his current research project, which focuses on women in Canada living with HIV to determine whether specific factors affect or influence health disparities among this group.
What’s your educational background and where did you study?
I studied nursing for four years and completed my bachelor of science in nursing at the Shahid Beheshti University of Medical Sciences in Iran. I then continued my education at the Tehran University of Medical Sciences and went on to do my master’s degree in epidemiology, so that was kind of different than what I was doing before. I went from one field, nursing, that was more practice-based, to epidemiology, which was more research intensive. It was really interesting to switch from clinical practice to doing epidemiological and clinical research with additional skills to promote my critical thinking.
Why did you choose to come to Schulich Medicine & Dentistry?
Before deciding where I wanted to do my studies, I set out to find a supervisor who would mesh with my research interests and experience. I actually found out about Schulich Medicine & Dentistry because of my supervisor, Greta Bauer, PhD.
I didn’t continue my studies in Iran because I wanted to gain a different type of research experience. Having research experience in developing and developed countries will help me to think about research questions with a global lens instead of one that is country-specific.
What research are you currently undertaking and why does it matter?
I’m specifically looking at the population of women in Canada living with HIV to determine whether specific health inequalities exist for this group. In my research, I am studying both women in Canada who are living with HIV and those in the general population who do not have HIV. Through these two groups I am trying to analyze the social and behavioural determinants of health so that I can identify the health inequalities that exist.
With the discovery of new indicators, the hope is that the health disparities for those living with HIV can be alleviated and their health can be improved. I believe these indicators apply to not only women living with HIV, but men and other people who are at risk for HIV infection, as well.
I haven’t finalized my thesis topic, but I think this type of research and scope of analysis is what I would like to focus my research efforts on for my PhD thesis.
Is the research you are working on now related to anything you have studied before?
I’ve been working on HIV and sexually transmitted infections for roughly six years. When I was completing research in my home country of Iran, I was looking at populations who were at a high-risk of developing HIV, such as those who inject drugs and sex workers. In Iran, these two groups are more likely to be at risk for HIV infection at both global and national levels.
Through this work I was trying to identify national and international indicators of the high-risk behaviours of these groups so that we could present the evidence to the Iranian Minister of Health, who could then develop guidelines to assist with prevention.
What kind of implications does your research have?
Through the identification of indicators associated with HIV, I think we can decrease the health disparities this population faces and provide them with greater information about the high-risk behaviours they engage in. This is a long-term implication, because it may help to reduce the amount of people living with HIV through greater education and implementation of preventative measures. It may also allow those living with HIV to be more aware of the services and resources available.
What work have you done with Trans PULSE?
My supervisor, Greta Bauer, is the Principal Investigator of the Trans PULSE Canada project. So far, I have been involved in two studies that analyzed the frequency of heavy episodic drinking (HED) and drug use in transgender people in association with socio-demographics, gender transition and social exclusion. Lead by Dr. Bauer’s senior PhD student, these studies have provided very important information regarding inequalities in alcohol use and drug use experienced by Ontario's trans population compared to those in the general population.