Alfiya Battalova is the newest member of the Pacific AIDS Network team, joining us as Evaluation Manager. Alfiya has a PhD in Disability Studies from the University of Illinois at Chicago, has worked at UBC’s Department of Occupational Science and Therapy as a Research Coordinator, at the Social Planning and Research Council of BC, and Spinal Cord Injury BC. Read about other members of our team in the Meet the People at PAN series.
What sparked your interest in working in the HIV or hepatitis C community?
I have always been interested in research that focuses on the issues of health and social justice because of the strong connection between research/evaluation and its potential to make a difference. Evaluation for me is a powerful way to sustain a program/initiative that makes a positive change and identify ways for improving it. I am quite excited about a multidisciplinary nature of HIV/hepatitis C research and evaluation (education, human rights, public health), its collaborative approach and an opportunity to apply a variety of evaluation tools and frameworks depending on the project.
What kind of impact do you hope your work has on the “real world”?
HIV and hepatitis C research and evaluation highlights the importance of broader issues of inequality, such as stigma, access to health care, housing, and socioeconomic disparities. In other words, HIV/hepatitis C research and evaluation is critical for highlighting the systemic issues that require policy solutions. But it also brings forward the lived experiences that require more individualized and community-based solutions. For example, to address the problem of stigma that people living with HIV/AIDS/hepatitis C experience, it is important to focus not only on discrimination and access to services but also on the internalized stigma and its psychological impacts on the individual.
How do you engage the community in your work?
As someone with a background in Disability Studies, the principle of Nothing About Us, Without Us is very important to me. One of the ways to implement this principle in research and evaluation is to ensure that communities and people affected by this research and evaluation are driving the process of identifying the areas of inquiry, data collection, and knowledge translation. I am very excited that PAN weaves in the voices from the community in every aspect of its work.
I have been working on the issue of power differentials in healthcare sector, and one of the things that I believe can help shift the conversation about devaluation of knowledge from the affected communities is epistemic humility, the idea that all knowledge is partial and that lived experience is as valuable as any other more traditional types of knowledge.
If you had unlimited funds, what parts of community work would you invest in? (research, outreach, training, etc.)
It would be so hard to choose. I believe in the importance of targeting multiple areas to achieve sustained and meaningful change. However, any programs and interventions need to be evidence-based, so if I want to ensure their success, I would certainly start with research.
In terms of the specific areas of research, I would invest in the areas that go hand in hand with HIV/AIDS and hepatitis C research, namely, the research on social determinants of health. I believe that without addressing the broader issues that community might face (e.g., housing, transportation, health care system), we cannot develop comprehensive solutions. As well, I would also invest in interdisciplinary evaluation approaches. For example, arts-based methods can be particularly powerful in uncovering hidden perspectives and in empowering participants.
If you were able to choose, what is the natural talent or superpower you’d like to be gifted with and why?
Probably, it would be a natural ability to learn multiple languages. I think that speaking multiple languages not only allows you to connect to people in a more authentic way, but also rewires our brain, expands our thinking and increases appreciation for cultural diversity in a more meaningful way.