Internet Initiative to Boost Health Research in Africa, Central Asia, and Eastern Europe

Article excerpt

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 WHO's Library and Information Networks for Knowledge, who helped broker the public-private 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 6-12-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[R], and SilverPlatter, 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, policymakers, and health care providers in the different countries. …