versão impressa ISSN 0042-9686
Bull World Health Organ vol.79 no.1 Genebra Jan. 2001
Internet initiative to boost health research in Africa, Central Asia, and Eastern Europe
In December WHO launched an initiative aimed at bridging the information technology gap. This digital divide, as UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan has called it, currently handicaps health researchers in low-income countries. The aim is twofold: to provide access for researchers in developing countries to cutting-edge scientific information via the Internet often out of their reach for technical and cost reasons and to enable health researchers from developing countries and emerging economies to network with scientific colleagues from around the world.
Overall, the initiative should give a much-needed boost to research into diseases that disproportionately affect the poor a neglected area which attracts less than 10% of global funds for health research.
Barbara Aronson of WHOs Library and Information Networks for Knowledge, who helped broker the publicprivate research initiative, says it will help put researchers from developing countries and emerging economies on the map at last. This will ensure that their voices are heard and that research in these countries will get the attention and recognition it deserves both locally and internationally.
A 612-months pilot project of the initiative will begin in early 2001 at nine health research institutes specializing in tropical diseases, reproductive health, and communicable and noncommunicable diseases in Africa (Ghana, Mali, Mozambique, the United Republic of Tanzania, Uganda), Central Asia (Mongolia), and Eastern Europe (Armenia, Uzbekistan).
The pilot project marks the operational launch of a wider United Nations programme, Health InterNetwork, established early last year to improve global public health by increasing the flow of health information worldwide via the Internet. The Health InterNetwork, spearheaded by WHO, aims to create a public health portal on the Internet and establish new information sites in developing countries and emerging economies by the end of 2003. The Health InterNetwork partners the Open Society Institute of the Soros Foundation network, leading information service providers including Elsevier Science, ISI®, and Silver-Platter, other UN agencies, and a range of public and private sector partners will provide computer technology, training, and logistic support tailored to meet the differing needs of researchers, policy-makers, and health care providers in the different countries. By 2002, about 30 40 countries are expected to be participating.
Other pilot projects in the pipeline include a programme for nurse training in Africa and a project to improve the flow of information and communication at all levels within Indias health system.
The health research initiative will establish high-speed Internet connectivity, provide top-quality scientific information online, and train researchers in information management so they can exploit these services to the full. The three information service providers involved have each agreed to make a one-year donation of their subscription-only online services to the participating research institutes. If the pilot projects are successful, WHO will then negotiate a price for continued services on a country-by-country basis. WHO anticipates that donor support of US$ 4050 million will be needed over the first five years for the 3040 countries involved.
In a separate development, Brazil and China have each made bilateral agreements outside the Health InterNetwork with Elsevier Science, ISI®, and SilverPlatter to provide health research information online.
Dr Gro Harlem Brundtland, WHO Director-General, said: If the researchers and scientists can read the same journals, search the same databases, join in the discussion groups, compete for the same grants as their colleagues from wealthier countries, it will strengthen their own research, bring them into the international community of researchers and eventually improve dissemination of their own results.