As early as 1983, staff within the Faculty of Medicine of the University of Toronto began to work in the area of HIV and AIDS. The research and teaching program in the area of HIV Studies has grown over time and is one of the largest and most diverse in Canada. Scientific expertise and interest have developed within the Faculty in the areas of clinical and basic science, social and behavioural science, epidemiology and population health, health promotion and prevention, health services and policy research. These activities are both campus-based and within teaching hospitals associated with the University.
The Unit was established in 1994 under the University of Toronto’s Academic Priorities Program, with joint funding from the AIDS Bureau, Ontario Ministry of Health and Long-term Care and the Faculty of Medicine. The HIV Studies Unit was established as an extra-departmental unit in the Faculty of Medicine sponsored by the Department of Public Health Sciences (now the Dalla Lana School of Public Health) and the Department of Health Policy, Management, and Evaluation (now the Institute of Health Policy, Management, and Evaluation). Within the University and in Canada, the Unit provides a unique focus on community and public health issues, bringing together social and behavioural scientists and epidemiologists.
The Unit was the first in Canada to utilize a multidisciplinary approach to address social and behavioural aspects of HIV transmission and its determinants, the impacts of the disease, and issues of service delivery. It remains the only known campus-based unit in Canada with a specific focus on HIV and AIDS. The HIV Studies Unit conducts research into risk and non-risk behaviours; sexuality and sexual health; drug use related to HIV; and, the need and effectiveness of related interventions, services and policies. The Unit’s research is characterized by its: focus on marginalized and difficult to reach populations; emphasis on applied research; comparative and multi-method study design; multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary perspectives; qualitative and quantitative methods; dissemination to multiple stakeholders; and community engagement and community-university collaboration.
The HIV Social, Behavioural and Epidemiological Studies Unit provides a rich environment for graduate students to undertake masters and doctoral level education. Many of the graduates associated with the Unit have gone on to become educators, researchers and advocates in the field of HIV and AIDS. The Unit has attracted a number of international students and fellows also. The large number of research projects of the Unit offers students and community members opportunities for employment and applied learning.
As HIV and AIDS have evolved, so too has the work of the Unit. Members of the Unit continue to forge new partnerships and collaborations, explore new research methods and analytic techniques, and advance capacity building and knowledge translation and exchange across Canada and internationally.