HIFA Voices Will Assist Global Efforts to Provide Vital Healthcare Information

Intel Corporation and mPowering Frontline Health Workers are proud to be partners on Healthcare Information for All (HIFA) Voices, a global library of knowledge and experience extracted from HIFA discussion forums. In this guest blog, Dr. Neil Pakenham-Walsh explains the critical need for improved access to health information for citizens and health workers, and how HIFA Voices will help. Dr. Pakenham-Walsh is Coordinator of HIFA and Co-director of the Global Healthcare Information Network.

Every day, 2,000 children under 5 die from diarrhoea, UNICEF reports. Many of these children die because the parent or health worker caring for them does not know the basic treatment: to provide increased fluids. In India, 4 in 10 mothers believe they should withhold fluids. This belief tragically increases their child’s risk of death. Furthermore, if the child reaches a health worker, many of these providers, due to lack of training or supervision, give the child drugs that do more harm than good. JOB1112-20-lowres.jpg

People are dying for lack of knowledge. The problem is global, and it has an impact on the prevention and management not only of childhood diarrhoea but of all diseases that affect children and adults. It affects especially those billions of disadvantaged people who currently do not have access to a properly supported health worker. Very often, death and suffering could have been avoided through the timely provision of effective treatment – treatment that is often locally available.

In 1986 and 1987 I had a taste of what it is like to be an isolated health worker in a low-income country, and have since dedicated my career to understanding and addressing the information needs of citizens and health workers in low- and middle-income countries.

What can be done about it? There is no simple answer to ensure the availability and use of healthcare knowledge that is both actionable and reliable. Different groups of caregivers (citizens, community health workers, midwives, doctors) need different, but consistently accurate, information in different contexts, in the right language and format. Providing such information depends on the integrity of a complex global system of research, publication, systematic review, international guideline development, production of reference and learning materials, and helping people to find the information they need.

Thanks to mobile devices and internet, technological access to information is improving, and we can envisage near-universal access within the next 10 years. Over the same time period, the issue of relevance and reliability of content will become relatively more important than access. In particular, there is a need to find ways to enable citizens and health workers to differentiate reliable from (the vast majority) unreliable content.

Healthcare Information For All (HIFA) brings together providers and users of healthcare information – health professionals, researchers, policymakers, publishers, librarians, information profesionals - in a continuous online conference to better understand information needs and how to meet them. HIFA has more than 12,000 members in 174 countries, interacting on five global discussion forums in three languages.

A new initiative, HIFA Voices, will harness the experiential knowledge that is shared every day on these forums, so that knowledge of information needs — and how to meet them — is available to planners and implementers of health information services and products. Our innovative approach, developed in consultation with the World Health Organization and others, is to capture short, verbatim extracts, called "HIFA Quotations", from HIFA discussions.

In addition, we shall collect HIFA Citations reflecting formal and informal professional outputs of health information and library professionals. HIFA Citations will begin with a model bibliography for Kenya coordinated by health librarian Nasra Gathoni, President of the Association for Health Information and Libraries in Africa (AHILA).

As a partner to the UN and USAID, Intel is contributing towards the goal of training 1 million healthcare workers by 2015.  The company is convinced that a well-trained healthcare work force will lead to better health for women and children. Intel relies heavily on public-private partnerships for scale, reach, and impact in the health space and this support for HIFA will strengthen the resources available for Intel and other partners to reach the 1M X 15 goal. Intel continues to provide Health/Education expertise, solution architecture support, technical training, and technology information and best practices for ICT projects. Currently, Intel skoool™ Healthcare Education Platform provides eLearning, assessment, and tracking capabilities in both connected and disconnected environments is provided through an open access no charge license agreement.

We are delighted to be supported in this effort by Intel Corporation, mPowering Frontline Health Workers, The Lancet and Elsevier. HIFA Voices launches today, August 12, and you can find out more information here: www.hifavoices.org.

In the meantime, we invite readers to join our forums and contribute to our discussions: www.hifa2015.org.