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Tackling HIV/AIDS

Developing a Health Information Library Network in Cameroon

Nov 01, 2010

Appolinaire Djikeng and Odile Ouwe Missi Oukem

Library Connect interviewed Odile Ouwe Missi Oukem, PhD, and Appolinaire Djikeng, PhD, about their project to develop a health information library network in Cameroon. Odile is located at the project’s hub, the Chantal Biya International Reference Centre for Research on HIV/AIDS Prevention and Management (CIRCB) in Yaoundé-Messa, Cameroon. Appolinaire is located at the BecA-ILRI Hub in Nairobi, Kenya.

Library Connect: Why did you respond to the Elsevier Foundation Program for Innovative Libraries in Developing Countries?
Odile Ouwe Missi Oukem and Appolinaire Djikeng: When we saw the RFP, we were already involved in various activities focusing on HIV/AIDS and other infectious diseases. We had identified gaps and weaknesses in information sharing and dissemination from ongoing projects, which could be overcome by putting in place a health information network. Our proposal, “Building on an Operational Health Network to Develop a Health Information Library Network in Cameroon,” addressed these gaps.

What makes this project different from other efforts to improve healthcare in Cameroon?
Like in many other countries, the relationship between the Ministry of Health and the peripheral hospitals is weak, but to our knowledge, information and communications technology has rarely been used to address this weakness. Investment is more likely to be with basic or sophisticated medical equipment rather than communication and documentation infrastructures. Although this is a pilot project with few sites constituting the network, this initiative attempts for the first time to bridge this gap by linking remote health facilities, thereby reducing the digital divide.

When did you begin?
The proposal was selected for funding in January 2009, and we began in March 2009 when the funds were transferred to CIRCB.

What was your goal?
In Cameroon and in most sub-Saharan African countries, healthcare professionals still suffer from the digital divide. It was clear to us that reducing this divide could improve their access to up-to-date biomedical information relevant to their efforts in controlling several infectious diseases — such as HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria — with a devastating impact on public health. In addition, they could access tools to accelerate the transmission and documentation of biomedical information in the context of control (diagnosis, treatment and vaccination) of diseases. Furthermore, using informatics tools to manage and control infectious diseases would set the stage for efficient and early reporting of new and unknown infections, known and reemerging infections, drug-resistant strains of known and usually treatable infections, etc.

How did you go about achieving this goal?
We took advantage of a network of collaborating institutions for research and control of HIV/AIDS to establish a library information system in selected public and private health institutions in Cameroon (nodes) and linked them to CIRCB (the hub).

What success have you seen to date?
Rural health facilities now receive HIV patients’ results as soon as they are available at the central testing lab (CIRCB). This is particularly beneficial to infants born of HIV-positive mothers because early diagnosis guarantees early treatment, which may prolong and improve their lives.

Health information, such as the latest information related to HIV/AIDS treatment, Ministry of Health decisions, information on national and international conferences on infectious diseases, debates occurring through electronic forum and training opportunities, are being disseminated to healthcare workers. As a result, one technician based in one node of the network (in the far North region) has been selected to attend the 2010 session of a postgraduate training in biological retrovirology in Dakar. In addition, relationships between the rural health facilities and the reference laboratory located in Yaoundé, the capital city of Cameroon, are stronger.

What are your next steps?
We will finalize the digitization of the HIV bibliography in Cameroon to make it accessible to remote health facilities, and we’ll continue to use the communication infrastructure to maintain regular interactions with the rural health facilities. Depending on need, we will propose personalized activities, including training on basic software (e.g., Word, Excel, PowerPoint). Finally, we would like to extend this project to as many health facilities as possible to really see an impact at the country level. For this step, we will require funding for a second phase.