Gathoni, N. Transforming health information for better health in Africa: opportunities and prospects for librarians. LIASA Conference, South Africa, October 2013
Abstract / Summary:
Information plays a vital role in achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). Specifically, progress towards the health related MDGs would be accelerated through the provision of accurate, relevant and up-to-date information resulting in better decisions by healthcare providers and ultimately better healthcare. Besides providing information to the healthcare providers, preventive healthcare is paramount in ensuring a healthy society. Hence, an important step to a healthy society is to empower the consumer with information that will lead to better health practices.
In Africa there is need for effective interventions for better health outcomes. There is also need to ensure the interventions and approaches that we embark on are coherent. Though much has been written about improving health systems and it is without doubt a very critical issue, however, other factors such access to health information is also crucial. It is essential to ensure that health information is comprehensible and usable or else there would be a major hindrance to achieving the MDGs (Gathoni, 2012). We must therefore address these issues if we are to achieve the MDGs by 2015 and beyond. A key strategic strand is the need for us all to engage in building a collaborative culture in which librarians from all sectors can work together, and with other professions to move this agenda forward.
Health information professionals in Africa are key players and must prioritize and promote the role that librarians can take in improving the health of their communities and society. Coordinated, innovative and concerted efforts are essential and we shall all need to reach out and engage with each other and other professions. Associations, capacity building, partnerships and collaborations for instance, are some notable ways of working towards a common goal for Africa as this meeting of LIASA exemplifies. An association such as AHILA founded in 1984 and working across Africa is a good example of a conduit to facilitate engagement, coherent approaches and collaboration which will contribute towards ensuring a healthy society. With 46 member countries, the membership of AHILA arguably has the potential of transforming health information flow in Africa.
Health information professionals should take the lead in promoting access to health information. They should also work with others to reach out and enable public access to reliable health information. Since AHILA’s approach is to encourage each country in Africa to form a country chapter, this provides an opportunity for the respective countries to address country specific issues and ultimately alleviate health related issues affecting the continent.