African research to improve patient care and treatment is growing, but the dissemination of evidence-based approaches to healthcare lags behind, experts say.
At a five-day workshop on how to find the best available evidence for priority health issues in Africa, researchers called for the establishment of an Africa-based regional information hub to distribute scientific research on the continent's top killer diseases, including HIV, malaria and tuberculosis.
"For all kinds of questions in medicine, there has been an urge to say 'let's use and implement the knowledge we have before making new research and wast[ing] money and duplicat[ing] research'. That is... the starting point for the whole evidence-based health care movement… It needs to reach Africa," said Frode Forland, coordinator of a Collaboration for Evidence Based Healthcare in Africa, a project that aims to support the attainment of health-related UN Millennium Development Goals.
"I was counting a number of institutions for evidence-based health care in Europe… There are more than 100. In Africa, so far, we can only count two," he said.
Information readily available
The workshop brought together, through grants from the Elsevier Foundation, 24 medical librarians and health information specialists from seven African countries - Burundi, Ethiopia, Rwanda, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda and Zimbabwe - to map out a continental approach to discovering and sharing evidence-based health research. It focused on the role librarians can play in assisting and training health workers and researchers to efficiently search and retrieve studies.
"The problem isn't the availability of information, particularly in developing countries. Most of the information is given for free by different development agencies like the World Health Organization and others. One of the problems, I have come to understand in the past few years, is that most physicians and other health care workers do not know the information is available on the web or how to effectively utilize it," Admasu Tenna, an assistant professor at Addis Ababa University, told IRIN.
|Medicine is an ever-changing science, especially on the diseases we struggle to defeat like HIV/AIDS. A physician needs to update himself constantly to offer his patient a best possible treatment plan|
"If we are about to change this, we need to equip them with the capacity to retrieve the information, and also [do this] very effectively as they are very busy cannot spend more time in that," he added. "Medicine is an ever-changing science, especially on the diseases we struggle to defeat like HIV/AIDS. A physician needs to update himself constantly to offer his patient a best possible treatment plan."
Librarians trained at the workshop - which will rotate through all participating countries - will be expected to share their knowledge with other librarians and with health personnel.
"Now I not only can employ more effective methods to search for research, but [I] can also develop more effective keywords and methods that make the database readily and easily utilized by others. I am also ready to train doctors and other librarians, as well, on how to effectively access databases that are freely accessible," said Meraf WoldeAmanuel of the Ethiopian Health and Nutrition Research Institute.
Masimba Muziringa, who represented the University of Zimbabwe's College of Health at the workshop, sees the potential for better sharing African research among countries with similar demographics.
"Africa, and even most sub-Saharan African countries, invested quite a lot in research generation, but there hasn't been an emphasis on dissemination and access to that knowledge being generated. Findings of a study done here in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, can be applicable in Harare, Zimbabwe, or Johannesburg, South Africa," he said.